The students in Trish McGovern’s English Language Arts class at Park View Middle School recently had the chance to connect what they were learning to real life, as they read the short story, “A Retrieved Reformation,” which discussed personal character and whether or not people are capable of changing.
“In the story, the main character [a bank robber] writes a letter to an old pal saying he is changing his ways,” said McGovern.
At the same time, McGovern was struck by an article she saw in the Providence Journal on Dec. 12, 2012, entitled, “Wrong on so many levels made right,” a story about two police officers and the manager of the Apple store at Providence Place Mall, who righted a wrong by their own good deed when an autistic child’s iPad was stolen. The officers, prepared to replace it for her themselves, were surprised by the donation of the iPad by the store manager.
McGovern decided to take the themes of reform and change and run with it, having the students write their own letters.
“You could have heard a pin drop when the article was read,” said McGovern. “Seeing how many students were touched by these people, I opened the assignment up to writing letters to these people or to Mr. Rotz.”
Park View Principal Joe Rotz had just announced that he was leaving his current job at Park View to take on a new position in the Cranston Public Schools administration, and McGovern had originally planned her letter-writing project for the students to write congratulatory letters to him.
“Our students wrote from the heart in how they are involved in Rachel’s Challenge and how being a part of a Feinstein School they know that doing good can cause a chain reaction,” said McGovern.
The students began writing their letters that week, and on Dec. 14, a school tragedy occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. As McGovern read their letters over the weekend on Dec. 15 and 16, she knew that hearing about the good going on in the world was essential to coping with the news of the school tragedy.
“As I reviewed these letters over the weekend, I knew that given Friday’s horrible news, we needed to focus on the positives in our world. The sampling of our students’ letters is the perfect example of this,” she said, noting that their letters, often times lengthy and deeply personal, showed how much one person could have an influence over another.
Kat Stepalavich wrote her letter to the two police officers, letting them know how much they influenced her life, even though they don’t know her.
“I said that the police officers were different from a lot of people I know. I related it to my family that is in the military and my family member that is a firefighter. I told them that they are not only [the little girl’s] hero, but that they were also mine,” she said.
Talia Parente wrote her letter to the manager of the Apple store, Frank Ferrants.
“I said it’s a good thing to give the iPad back to her because she needs it for comfort and I told him that by doing that, he would start his own chain reaction of kindness,” she said. “I just wanted to thank him for making the world a better place.”
Andres Jimenez wrote his letter to Rotz.
“I told him that he put discipline where it should be and how he put programs in the school to change how people saw Park View Middle School, like PBIS and the after-school programs,” Jimenez said.
McGovern believes the lesson will start a chain reaction of its own as the students emulate the good deeds they saw in the police officers’ and store manager’s actions and in the things they saw Rotz do at PVMS.
“I hope that it continues to inspire and remind people of the joy that does exist,” she said.