As a teacher, you never quite know what seeds you plant.
Mrs. Patty MaClain, a Pleasant Valley High School English teacher had her students read Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. She asked her students what were their dreams and what could they do to change the world?
She never could have imagined how that little seed could have sprouted into something the students and staff at PVHS now call the HOPE Initiative or the HOPE Movement.
McClain says it began in a few different places simultaneously.
"My role as a curricular coach allows me to work with many teachers in different content areas and, since project-based learning is my specialty, I had a fantastic opportunity to work with and listen to a lot of different students and teachers and they all had a shared goal of leveraging individual strengths while creating unity and helping others," she says.
The idea had been forming a long time, but the implementation began sometime in January of this year.
Teachers and advisers started taking an active role in encouraging their students to follow the advice of Kid President, Robby Novak, 10, who has been making inspirational videos gone viral on YouTube with a mission to make the world "less boring" and to make school and the world "more awesome."
"I believe that this caught on, and caught on quickly, because it is something that every person can relate to and believe in. The whole point is to have each individual reflect in order to determine what HOPE means to them so they can use that to help others and make things better. I really believe in empowering the students through a student-centered approach because they have amazing ideas and an inherent desire to help other people. Luckily, it turns out that the organic and all-inclusive nature of HOPE allows each of them to shine in their own way," says McClain.
Until a few recent meetings of a small group of students working on a HOPE video, there has been no structured meetings.
"I believe that is actually one of the reasons that this works so well. Our students need to realize that they are capable of doing great things in small ways and that those things can happen without meetings and agendas. A lot of students choose not to get involved with clubs and sports because they can't commit to the schedules and others are involved in so many activities that they overwhelm themselves, so the idea of being a part of something because they want to help without having a formal commitment reinforces the idea that they are all important as individuals and that they are also capable of being a part of something bigger just by having a shared goal of kindness and compassion," says McClain.
There is no "president" or "chairman." No one person is "in charge" because there is no formal structure.
"Each person involved is essentially in charge of their own role and their commitment to their personal vision and the overall goal of kindness and compassion. Having said that, none of this would have been possible without a core group of individuals who believed in the students like Shannon Mackes (PVHS honors teacher), Melissa Dennis (PVHS paraprofessional), Meghan Feliciani (PVHS English teacher), Tim McCutchan (PVHS social studies department chair), and Francesca McCutchan (PVHS English teacher), as well as very supportive administrators and the students themselves. More and more teachers, students, and administrators are getting on board every day and students have already visited our elementary, intermediate and middle schools to bring their message to younger students," says McClain.
Victoria Soares, a PVHS junior, was inspired by her McClain's challenge to do what they could to change the world.
"The HOPE project got bigger and spread to the other teachers and now HOPE has become really big. I love spreading positivity so much. I just want the younger students to view things with hope," she says.
Her classmate, Nina Rose Giambalvo agrees. "It shows the kids there are no limits to be able to change the world."
Jolene Wolverton, a PVHS junior learned about HOPE from one of her teachers. "It's amazing how it has evolved. It's all about finding hope and showing others that hope is in everything."
A HOPE Initiative group visited PVI in March to spread their message of positivity, kindness and hope through the pop media and art. They listened to Brit Nicole's song "Gold" and then the 4th, 5th and 6th grade students decorated gold crowns made by the PVHS students that already had the words, "I'm worth more than gold" on them. The younger students were encouraged to decorate the crowns with a more individualized positive message about their own unique talents and achievements.
The second part of the day's activities included watching the Kid President's "Pep Talk" video because of its positive messages of teamwork and encouragement. The students created "HOPE Hands" out of construction paper and added messages to a person in Pleasant Valley who encouraged them. Some students also defined what hope meant to them.
Recently, PVHS students and staff members visited Polk Elementary School, spreading their message of positivity, kindness and hope. They invited the students in kindergarten, first, second and third grades to decorate white tee shirts with PV Bear paws, color-coordinated in four different colors, each one representing their grade. Kindergarten painted their paw prints in yellow for "Friendship," first grade's were in red for "Believe," second grade's color was green for "Trust" and third grade's paw prints were in blue for "Strength."
The PVHS students talked to the Polk students about each of the words that they worked on and what it means to them and what they can do to live those words. The students proudly wore their shirts on Field Day.
Ms. Erica Walters, Polk's principal, thought having the high school students interacting with the elementary students was "Fantastic. They really look up to the older kids and listen to what they have to say. It was also great for our teachers because they had many of these students when they were younger. This was extremely worthwhile for both our kids and our staff. It's great to see how the kids have responded to it."
Shannon Mackes, PVHS honors teacher, says that the HOPE initiative just mushroomed. Students and staff members are encouraged to submit ideas of how the message of positivity, kindness and hope can be spread throughout the district.
"The administration has been phenomenal about this," says Mackes.
Students and staff members wear teeshirts that the students designed with the word "HOPE" on them. Within the word "HOPE", there is an infinity sign ..."We want this to go on forever," Mackes says. Under the last letter of "E" are the words "Be The Change."
They noticed that when they wear them, people come up to them and ask how they can help and become involved.
"It's just growing more and more. We don't want it to end," says Mackes. "There are no words to express how this phenomon is sweeping through the schools. People have stopped me in Allentown when they saw my HOPE teeshirt, telling me they heard about this."
"People who see our teeshirts ask if they can buy one. When we sell one, we make a $2 profit. With that money we buy our supplies we use for our projects when we go to one of the other schools. If a student wants a tee shirt but can't afford it, all they have to do is volunteer two hours of their time spreading HOPE and they'll get one," says Melissa Dennis, PVHS paraprofessional.
Trim McCutchan, PVHS social studies teacher would like to see the HOPE initiative continue in the years to come and have it be a permanent part of PV.
"I want the students to see that positive is powerful and that one person can make a difference," he says.
Mrs. Meghan Feliciani, 9th and 11th grade English teacher at PVHS says she noted that her kids wanted to do something nice.
"We challenged them to do random acts of kindness. And they do, just because they want to. I think this movement is just as important to the big kids as it is for the little ones. They're role models for the younger students."
A group of PVHS students visited the classrooms at PVE, talking and reading to them.
Ashley Rivera, an 11th grader told students in Miss Missy Kern first grade class, said that she thought Hope was making sure everyone's happy.
Jasmine Jaraba, a 9th grader, said her idea of Hope was in treating others as you would like to be treated
Shannon Cunningham, 9th grade said spreading Hope could be done by not bullying anyone.
Elizabeth Arace, 9th grade said that spreading Hope makes people feel good about who they are.
They asked each of the students in Miss Kern's class what they like to do that made them feel good. Some of the answers were, ride bike, Irish step-dance, play basketball, play with their puppy.
The PVHS students read the book, "How Full is Your Bucket-For Kids" by Tom Rath, Mary Reckmeyer, Maurie J. Manning illustrator, to the students. It is a story of a little boy named Felix, who's grandfather explains why happy people make Felix feel good, while the others leave him feeling bad — and how Felix himself affects others, whether he means to or not and challenges him to fill an invisible bucket with good things. It has a powerful message of how the way we relate to others has a profound effect on every aspect of our lives.
Then they asked the children how would they fill the invisible bucket. Some of their answers were to spread hope, share and spread happiness.
Another group from HOPE spent time outside with some PVE students drawing positive chalk art on the playground while another group helped draw messages of Hope on windows throughout the school.
Noah Soltis, 11th grade says what they are doing puts everyone in a good mood. "It's great for the kids. It's great for everyone."
Abby Ertel, 9th grade says that what they do makes everyone feel more positive and "it puts smiles on their faces."
Melissa Dennis, a PVHS paraprofessional believes the HOPE movement is a way to make the schools feel more like family. "I'm from a small school where everyone knew everyone else. PV is a huge district. I think by having the high school students interact like this with the younger students makes them all feel more a part of each other. As for spreading hope, when you have hope, you can change the world. In the short time we've been doing this, word has spread. I'm getting phone calls from other schools and organizations that want our kids to come and talk to them about the HOPE Initiative. Some of those are coming from as far as Oklahoma, Texas, New Jersey, California and New York.
"We're not a club or an organization. Hope is the great equalizer," says Dennis.
PVHS senior Jack Wathen has been inspired by HOPE.
"The best way I have been able to explain the HOPE Initiative is by simply asking every person, 'What gives you hope?' The project is not a club, class, or activity. It is an outlook, with the goal being to inspire anyone to see the potential they have for great things. Personally, I have always been a pretty positive person, but this has changed my life. I want to see this project continue for the years to come. The whole concept is truly beneficial to every single student, but it can be so much more than that. I hope it spreads to the community, and even farther. It would be nice if the idea can spread throughout the world. We, as in the human race, too often hear of the trauma and bad of the world, but the extremely simple idea of being positive needs to go viral. It needs to reach every corner of the globe," says Wathen.
As a small stone thrown into a pool creates one small ripple that creates more ripples into an ever-widening circle, PV students and staff are creating ripples of HOPE.