Students are asked to share encouraging messages and drawings on placemats used for the meals, and they needed to make a bunch of them.
“This year they’re planning on having 2,000 guests, so this has become our all-school service project,” Ridge Park Achievement Behavioral Specialist Lisa Walejewski said. “They may write some things they are grateful for or some encouraging words for the people.
Walejewski coordinates the project and works with the teachers to make sure they hit their mark. A countdown begins through an all-school email a few weeks before the drop-off date and this year, the children finished a day early.
“The longer the students have been in the building, the more they start asking if we’re doing the placemats again this year,” she said. “It ties in with gratitude, the Moral Focus Virtue this month, and it gives the teachers an opportunity to talk about that and what that looks like for people who are receiving the placemats. It opens conversations they can have that may not usually come up in school.”
Students learn about Mel Trotter Ministries and the work they do to battle homelessness in the community and get to express their creative side as well. Artistic renderings of turkeys and tables full of food filled many of the placemats while words of encouragement and “Happy Thanksgiving” filled others.
“This year some students will have a small field trip down to Mel Trotter to deliver the placemats, and then they’re going to get a tour of the facility,” she said. “They’re allowing us to eat a meal with them too. We want them to have the experience of taking a city bus, of navigating downtown, and to see what services Mel Trotter offers.”
Stacks of multi-colored placemats grouped by the hundreds filled a corner of Walejewski’s office.
“Some of these are just amazing! Look at the detail!”
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Ridge Park Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, serving students in Young 5s through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes over 95 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit nhaschools.com.
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