Early on a recent school day, Obsidian Middle School science teacher Dan Grubb gave his class of sixth graders a challenge: donate gloves to fellow students in need.
Grubb admitted to his class of 20 students, gathered virtually, that he wouldn’t give extra credit to those who donated gloves, which would be part of a larger school effort.
Instead, he stressed the importance of empathy and helping others.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that you are not capable and not powerful, because you have the ability to make a difference,” Grubb told the class. “One pair of gloves, from you, could make the difference in someone’s life.”
This glove drive, benefiting local nonprofit Family Access Network, is one of three major prongs in Obsidian Middle School’s campaign, dubbed the Wolfpack Joy Project. The goals of these efforts are to keep students engaged during distance learning and to spread joy in the community, said the school’s principal, Jensine Peterson.
“We know when we do great things for other people, we feel better in return,” Peterson told The Bulletin Thursday.
The other two activities that the nearly 700 students at Obsidian are participating in this December are writing holiday letters that will be emailed to family members and community heroes, like nurses and first responders, and daily themed spirit days — where students dress up for online class in simple themes like pajama day or ugly sweater day.
The letters were an idea that Peterson and other Obsidian staffers brainstormed. The original purpose was to give students an easy way to contact family members whom they would normally see around the holidays, but couldn’t this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There was sadness for students, with travel restrictions and COVID,” Peterson said. “We thought about what we could do to spread joy, positive messaging to people those kids aren’t going to get to see.”
Some classes also encouraged students to thank those who are helping the community during the pandemic, like medical workers, Peterson said.
Peterson knew she wanted to include some donation component to the Wolfpack Joy Project. Obisidan’s Family Access Network advocate, Tammy Gates, was the person who suggested gloves.
Family Access Network is a Bend-based nonprofit that places advocates, like Gates, in schools to connect with underprivileged children and get them materials they need, from school supplies to clothing to food.
Gloves are an item students constantly ask for in the winter, Gates said.
“What hits me is the kids that come in the morning ... and their hands are red from riding their bike when it’s so cold,” she said. “This time of year, gloves are a huge asset for kids.”
The themed dress-up days were intended to help salvage a sense of togetherness among students and school staff in a year when everyone only sees each other through a screen, Peterson said.
“Anything we can do to come together as a school community has been a focus for us,” she said. “We’re still together even if we’re in our separate homes.”
Participation during the first few days of dress-up themes has been mixed. Peterson said she saw plenty of students Tuesday over Google Meet wearing Obsidian’s colors of gray and maroon.
But in Grubb’s sixth-grade advisory period Thursday morning, only a couple students attempted “dress for success.” The vast majority of the students in the class never turned on their computer cameras.
Still, Grubb said he’s hopeful these dress-up days will encourage more student participation in virtual classes.
“If there’s a way that we can convince them to try something a little different, break out of their shell and dress up — if that’s going to help them get on camera, interact with me and other students, then I’m all for it,” he told The Bulletin Wednesday.