Colo-NESCO’s fifth graders through seniors got to go to a movie in Marshalltown last week. But being at a theater wasn’t time away from learning.
During a recent teacher professional day in the district, a few teachers who had seen the movie, “Wonder,” thought it was a perfect movie for middle and high school students to see to learn more about acceptance of others.
“Wonder” was released in 2017 and follows a child with Treacher Collins Syndrome (which can cause major facial distortion). It shows the struggles of the child and his family as they try to help him fit into a world that can be harsh and unkind to people who don’t look like everyone else.
“As a district, we are always trying to find new ways to address bullying, accepting people for who they are, not judging others by the way they look, but by really getting to know them and building one’s own character,” said fifth grade reading and language arts teacher Vickie Wilson.
Teachers thought through some ideas of pairing the movie with other activities for a day, and then approached their principal, Brandon Kelley.
“I think over the last five to 10 years, the term ‘bullying’ has taken on its own meaning,” Kelley said. “As students grow and advance through the school system, I think they face a lot more adversity than (they did) 15 years ago, due to social media.” Kelley felt the teachers’ idea was a great opportunity to teach kids how to handle situations and respect all individuals.
Students were divided into eight groups, with various ages in each group, and then rotated through a number of activities that went along with seeing the movie. the half-hour sessions include a “Wonder” character-building session where students wrote compliments to other students; a breakout box activity that forced students to work together to “break out” of a box; a thank-you writing session where students wrote thank-yous to staff and friends and a session where they watched a video on Chris Norton, a former Luther College football player who became paralyzed while making a tackle, and has since fought vigorously to beat the odds of never having any movement in his lower extremities again. He now manages a nonprofit foundation and works full-time as a motivational speaker.
Jessica Owens, junior high and high school English teacher and the student council advisor for Colo-NESCO, said she felt seeing the movie and doing the other activities was important for students in middle school and high school. “The movie ‘Wonder’ tackles a lot of the issues — home life, friends, bullying, kindness — that occur in young adolescents. It does a great job of showing the different perspectives of students in middle and high school,” she said.
Colo-NESCO school counselor Kara Kinser agreed. “I hope that our students take away that when you step out of your comfort zone, you can also grow and gain benefits as well. I also hope they understand we are all different and unique, but also all have great characteristics about us.”
Kelley said it was a good idea to get everyone away from the daily grind of life and reflect on what everyone can do to individually improve their character. “If the students and staff can take away one thing to improve their character and make somebody’s day a little better, then it was well worth it.”
Owens had a final comment. “The idea that everything you do or say CAN and WILL affect people … choose to be a positive light in someone’s life rather than a negative one. Always be the best YOU that you can be.”