Community News

A Week Of Empathy At Oldfield Middle School

Photo courtesy of Harborfields Central School District

Sixth grade English language arts classes at Oldfield Middle School in the Harborfields Central School District recently worked on a Project-Based Learning (PBJ) assignment on how to teach empathy to their fellow students, culminating in a student-organized Empathy Week in February. Since last November, the sixth graders had researched empathy and brainstormed ideas every Friday, guided by teacher Monica Zenyuh.

“It was entirely student-run, I was just the tour guide,” Zenyuh said.

Empathy Week proved to be a different form of a spirit week at OMS, including a daily video feature, daily quote in morning announcements, activities and challenges during homeroom, events during lunch and recess, and empathy-themed songs between classes. Students were asked to wear certain apparel or colors each day to unify them. The ELA students created Valentine’s Day cards for nursing homes and veterans, and placed anonymous positive notes on classmates’ lockers. In addition, students reached out to the district’s primary and elementary schools and got both involved in poster making and book reading. Emma Bemiss developed ideas like Empathy Bingo, while Anabella Czekaj, Leah Davila, Maeve Donovan and Jaclynn Smith came up with the idea of Kindness Jars, putting small slips of papers in each jar with empathy challenges for students to complete, and placing the jars in each homeroom. A Conversation Cubes project, organized by student Arianna Bester, compiled lists of ideas from her classmates to use as conversation starters when they sit with new people at lunch.

Empathy Week surely left a mark on Oldfield’s student body, leading to a greater sense of unity and compassion.

“Empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and understanding what they’re going through and not making it all about yourself,” sixth grader Olivia Castellano said.

“I’m so proud of where my students have taken this idea,” Zenyuh said. “Helping students understand how to think about things from another point of view, and that doing small things can make a huge impact on someone’s life, is an essential skill to possess in this day and age. Being able to facilitate that in my classroom has been a very rewarding experience.”

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