As my War & Literature course was coming to a close, I decided to do an alternative assessment that would give my students the opportunity to make a difference in the world.
During the semester, I invited a military sergeant into my classroom to speak with my students about military training and combat, and a few weeks later, my students and I visited the Vietnam Memorial Museum in Holmdel, New Jersey, where the students spoke with veteran soldiers and learned about their war experiences. My goal was to relate the course curriculum to the real world and make the literature come alive for these students, but I still felt that I wasn’t doing enough…
I mentioned the idea of helping current soldiers in war to my students and asked for their opinions and suggestions. Through a former English teacher of mine, I learned of Operation Jersey Cares–an organization that sends care packages to the soldiers in war. I asked my students if they would be interested in contributing, and they all said yes.
I didn’t want to simply supply the troops with care packages of everyday items; I wanted the gifts to be genuine. With that in mind, I suggested to the students that we create blankets and pillow cases (the pillow case idea came from my former teacher), and send them to the troops. I then went to Joann’s Fabrics and purchased several yards of fleece, and the next day, my students worked together to create the blankets for the soldiers. The following day, the students wrote inspiring messages on pillow cases, and on the third day, the students wrote heartfelt letters to the soldiers, expressing their sincere gratitude. At the end, we also compiled a box of supplies to send to the soldiers (I emailed the organization and requested an updated list of preferred care package items).
My end-of-the-unit project may have been non-traditional, but I sincerely believe that my students got more out of this assignment than they would have gotten out of an ordinary essay or exam. The students were making a difference in the world and being selfless. As seniors about to enter the real world, they should be encouraged to do this on their own. I wanted this to be my last lesson to them–a lesson they could carry for the rest of their lives.