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Gratitude Elves Surprise East Arbor Staff

East Arbor Charter Academy Fourth-grade Teacher Stephanie Gridley had her 29 students work on a special November Moral Focus virtue project. The November virtue is gratitude. Gridley found a template that said “Grateful for” with a blank to fill in the staff person’s name. The students finished decorating the page however they wanted.
“This was the first time I did something like this,” Gridley said. “I felt like staff members seemed a bit overwhelmed. It’s a tough time of year with a lot going on. Everybody seemed to be feeling the crunch. I wanted to show my students that we could do something nice, and we didn’t have to spend a lot of money doing it.
 East Arbor student with gratitude poster
Mrs. Gridley’s fourth-grade students created posters for all East Arbor staff and surprised them by hanging them up near their work area.

“I wanted them to know that something as simple as coloring a picture for someone could be a nice way to show someone that you appreciate what they do.”
Gridley’s students created an individual poster for all 70 staff including janitorial, food services and administrative. Some students designed posters for people they knew, but most did not know the staff person for whom they were creating art.
“I like to show the students how to put each month’s Moral Focus virtue into action,” she said. “I’ve been asking them to look for things to be grateful for this month. I tell them the impact of gratitude is that when somebody experiences it, they’re more likely to pass it on to someone else. Showing gratitude has benefits for the giver and the receiver.”
 East Arbor students
Mrs. Gridley’s fourth-grade gratitude elves were busy.

The gratitude art design project took a week in mid-November. She assigned students staff member names, and they took the first three days to design the posters. Then students went to classrooms or work areas to put the poster up.
“After they were done, I sent an email to staff, I told them my little gratitude elves went around the school and hung up a picture for each staff member,” she said. “I explained we did so to lead into our moral focus ‘I can’ for the week: ‘I can identify the positive impact that gratitude has on others’. I asked that if they had a moment, could they send a quick note, to tell the students how it felt to receive even a small token of gratitude.”
Below are a few of those notes:
  • The gratitude page made my day. Thank you. – Mrs. Dobreff
  • Oh my, it’s from your sweet class! I was wondering. The drawing is beautiful! It’s very thoughtful. It arrived when I needed it. It brightened my day. Thank you so much for your thoughtful, beautiful, drawing! – Mrs. Dewi
  • Thank you! I felt super happy and loved when I saw the gratitude posters. – Mrs. Edwards
  • I want to let you know how much I appreciate the picture of gratitude that was left on my door. It was a simple act of kindness that made my day. It gives me a smile each time I walk into my office. Thank you!!! – Mrs. Emery
  • Hi, finding the gratitude pictures on my door made my heart so happy. They really brightened my day. – Mrs. Gieske
  • I wanted to thank you and your class for the gratitude picture. It was very thoughtful and kind for your students to want to do this. It made me so happy that I was teary-eyed. Your kindness really touched my heart and blessed my day. Strive always to try and do what’s right and your efforts will never go unnoticed. Again, thank you. – Ms. Turner
The scholars loved hearing these comments and cheered when Gridley read them. Gridley is in her second career having started teaching four years ago, but she’s been involved with East Arbor since 2011 when the school opened, and her son started kindergarten. Her son is now a junior in high school. She has two daughters attending East Arbor now and two more kids to start in the next few years.
 East Arbor Student
Students decorated their posters however they wanted.

Gridley enjoys teaching the Moral Focus virtues and she always works with the students to help them understand that they can be used at school, at home with family, and out in the community.
“Even though we wrap up a Moral Focus virtue at the end of the month, we never really truly wrap it up,” Gridley said. “I always go back whenever I can to make more connections between our Moral Focus virtues no matter what the month.
Congratulations to Mrs. Gridley and her gratitude elves!
About East Arbor Charter Academy
East Arbor Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Ypsilanti, Michigan, serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes more than 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit

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