As scholars enter the school each morning, I greet them with a handshake. This is my favorite time of day because it’s often when I learn special, little tidbits about my students’ lives. After we say good morning to one another, scholars excitedly tell me about tooth fairy visits or the books they read the night before.
One recent morning, first grader Sienna Toung greeted me with a request for which I wasn’t prepared: “Ms. DePalo, can we have a Friendship Day at school?”
I wasn’t quite sure what Friendship Day might entail, so I knew better than to tell her ‘yes’ on the spot. Instead, I said, “Write me a proposal and I’ll think about it.”
I then went on to shake the hand of the scholar behind her and didn’t think much of it until the next morning when Sienna showed up with a detailed outline in hand of her vision for Friendship Day. Her mother and I shared a smile, and I told Sienna I’d set up a meeting with her later that day to go over her proposal.
After Sienna made her way up the stairs, Ms. Toung admitted to me that Sienna doesn’t usually enjoy writing, but she’d had great fun the night before coming up with the Friendship Day proposal. It made me realize the importance of those quick morning moments with scholars, and that I better hold up my end of the deal and hear Sienna’s plan.
In our conference room not long after, Sienna — notebook in hand — presented her five-point Friendship Day Proposal to the entire SA Washington Heights leadership team:
- On Wednesday in June;
- Wear your favorite colors of the rainbow;
- Make a friendship bracelet;
- Write a book or poem about friendship;
- Be a friend.
The team treated her as though she were any other meeting participant presenting a plan to the team. We asked her logistical questions, looked at the calendar to select the best date, and finally told Sienna that, as long as she continued to help us plan it, we would be able to add Friendship Day to our school calendar.
Sienna agreed to write an announcement in the school’s ACTION flyer (my secret ploy to get her to write even more), and we set up a few follow-up meetings. She wrote notes and met with the Business Operations Manager to order the material to make friendship bracelets. She communicated her plan to each classroom teacher and helped spread the word about the purpose of the day, “to celebrate friendship.”
The idea gained momentum, and soon the entire staff was excited to participate in our First Annual Friendship Day. We talked about it in our staff meeting and signed up to wear different colors of the rainbow. It quickly became the most popular topic of conversation around school.
I wanted Sienna to realize the power of making her dream a reality by executing a well-written and well-communicated plan. I truly believe that if we can instill this lesson in our scholars, then we are setting them up to be future world leaders.
We didn’t wait until June to celebrate Friendship Day. On a Wednesday, May 13, our entire school community arrived in the colors of the rainbow, with smiles, poems, and friendship notes in their pockets. Each class read a story about friendship. And at the end of the day, we gathered inside the gym as an entire school.
Scholars went to stand with friends that shared a similar favorite color and we made our own rainbow. Sienna gave a speech, thanking everyone for participating in Friendship Day. “To be a good friend, you have to be kind and nice,” she told the assembly.
When I asked her later why she’d wanted to do a Friendship Day, she told me she “wanted to celebrate with all my new friends in my new school.
“I wanted to thank everyone for being my friend,” Sienna said. “I can’t wait to make new friends every year.”
Looking around at all the smiles on Friendship Day, I felt more than ever what an incredibly strong community we have cultivated at SA Washington Heights, and how proud I was that Sienna’s Friendship Day would now become an annual tradition. I hope other scholars will follow Sienna’s example and champion their own proposals for future Spirit Days.
In an email, Sienna’s dad, Mr. Toung, later told me how grateful he was for Friendship Day and how much it had meant to Sienna: “If I can say so, this day feels very uplifting in a wonderful first year of SA-WH, where scholars from many communities and backgrounds have come together.”
Following the success of Friendship Day, I asked Sienna if she had any thoughts for ways we could improve it next year. Without skipping a beat, she responded: “Cookies. Eating cookies with friends is fun … I can add that into the proposal for next year.” Though I am not one to condone sweet treats in school, I had to admire her. As a school community, we had honed her negotiating skills and helped her understand the power of her words and ideas.
“So you like writing now, Sienna?” I joked. With a smile, she looked up at me and said, “Yes, I like to write now, especially when it comes to friendship and things that are fun like Friendship Day… and cookies.” Watch out, world. I present to you, Ms. Sienna Toung!