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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day!
Lori Abe

Valentine’s Day has become a meaningful holiday in our Character Education program, a time to express appreciation and to encourage others. Prior to COVID, our first and second graders used to visit an elderly day care hosted at St. Francis School. Unfortunately, these visits were discontinued due to the pandemic. However, last year, a Mid-Pacific alumna working at an elderly care home in our Manoa neighborhood reached out to us. She proposed that our students write holiday letters to their residents, and we enthusiastically embraced the opportunity.

Before embarking on the letter-writing activity, I engage the first through fourth grade students in a discussion aimed at fostering empathy for the elderly recipients. I pose questions such as why we should write larger than usual, emphasizing the impact of failing eyesight with age. We explore the importance of careful spelling to ensure the elderly readers can understand their kind message and that adding colorful decorations brings cheer to those who may be feeling lonely. (I’m sure you can agree that children’s drawings are a precious genre!) Some of our students were surprised after hearing that their letters brought tears of joy to a few of the elderly recipients.

In addition to connecting with the elderly, our first and second graders write Valentines to individuals or organizations in our wider community, such as first responders, sanitation workers, doctors, dentists, and even favorite local establishments. It is astonishing even to me to read the responses we receive back, like a heartfelt message from a restaurant appreciating a child’s genuine note, in addition to personal letters from a police chief, a CEO of a hospital, Ernest Lau from the Board of Water Supply, and even Presidents of the United States, just to name a few. I want the children to know that even though they are young, their kind words are powerful and can make an impact in our world!

While writing a polite phrase like "I hope you have a good day" is developmentally appropriate for first and second graders, I challenge them to go a step further by putting themselves in others' shoes. More deeply considering the perspective of a police officer, for instance, led students to write "I hope you stay safe." Thinking of others and being able to express sincere concern also can strengthen students’ relationships with others, whether they are seven or later when they are forty-seven years old.

This past week, one CE class walked to the high school, where students placed encouraging post-it notes. We had talked about how Valentine’s Day can be a fun and exciting day for some, and for others it can be a time when they feel left out, and so students wrote messages on post-it notes such as “We love you!...You can do it!...You are special!...We are here for you.” We ran into a former elementary student, Peyton, now in high school, and he took the initiative to stop what he was doing and help our younger students put up their kind post-it notes. I hope our current elementary students continue to grow up to be kind like this too!

After doing these activities where they are thinking of others and taking action to show love to them, the students have a tangible glow. We discuss the positive impact of kindness on one's own well-being; I want them to remember that warm, glowing feeling and be able to recall and utilize this healthy coping strategy as a tool to navigate difficult emotions in the future.

To love and be loved - possibly the most important acts in life.

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