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Graduates create some real mementos of their time at school

A longstanding graduating custom in Elmira has resulted in some one-of-a-kind Grade 8 projects to be on display at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Elementary School long after the students’ time there is over.

The school has a tradition that sees Grade 8 students complete some kind of task or project ahead of their graduation and journey to high school. This year, two groups of students tackled projects larger in scope than the graduates had ever attempted, resulting in the birth of an original storybook written by one of Canada’s bestselling authors, Robert Munsch, and an immaculate, handmade Canada 150-themed quilt.

French teacher Mary Baldasaro saw the complexity and originality of these projects developed by the students and addressed them as potential options to carry on the tradition.

“When these opportunities came up, I simply suggested to the students and to the Grade 8 teacher, Mr. Lawrence, that these two projects could be received as gifts to the school,” she said. “What made them different was the amount of student effort required to accomplish each one.”

The projects turned into a total creative adventure for the students, allowing them to end their time at the school completing a truly unique memento of their time at St. Teresa.

“The experience of each project was remarkable in that there was no template. The projects were larger in scope than they had ever attempted – they could imagine it, but they didn’t know where to begin,” she said, noting that the students had to figure out what the steps would be, and decide how to accomplish them.

The projects were spearheaded by Emilya Hillwood-Solomon and Alexis Zettler, who developed the storybook idea, and Fiona Bernard and Michéle Siebel-Achenbach, who lead the quilting project. Each expanded to include groups of students that helped complete the gifts in time for graduation.

Bernard and Siebel-Achenbach, both being very interested in design, wanted to make their Grade 8 project into something creative. With the help of their French teacher, the girls thought of the idea to make a quilt for Canada’s 150th birthday.

Based on the book ‘These Hands’ by Dave Gunning, and in conjunction with St. Teresa’s description of people as a hand of Christ, the girls collected 200 handprints – those of the entire student body – to join together the school’s theme and the celebration of Canada 150 on the quilt.

The project took the girls more than 100 hours to complete, with joined help from additional students and teachers in order to present it at their gradation last week.

In addition to the presentation, was that of the original storybook ‘Crazy Loopers’ by Robert Munsch.

The journey to create the book happened by chance when the girls, longtime fans of Munsch, invited the author to speak at the school’s Catholic education week.

“We decided to invite Robert Munsch because we loved his books as kids and we still do,” said Hillwood-Solomon.

Munsch couldn’t make the event to guest speak, but offered to write an original storybook with their classmates’ names in it. The students decided to send forward the names of their kindergarten reading buddies instead. Shortly after, the author sent them Crazy Loopers.

After receiving the story, Hillwood-Solomon and Zettler decided to put illustrations into the book.

“We asked our peers to help. With Taylor, Jaydn, Mackayla, Lejarvey, Camryn, Cody, and Odessa’s help we were able to finish in time,” said Zettler, noting that they were given the creative freedom to imagine what the ‘crazy loopers’ would be.

Although neither of the girls consider themselves artists per se, they are proud of how the book turned out.

“It was really fun. He was my favourite childhood author, so to illustrate his book was a dream come true for me. Honestly, I love his books so much,” said Hillwood-Solomon of Munsch’s contribution.

Baldasaro explained that working together really made these projects into the success that they are today.

“They came to realize that they needed help, and they had to ask for it. There is not much in the world that cannot be achieved in this way. That’s where the learning is.  It’s not about the book or the quilt, but about learning to value others, and to recognize that you need a variety of people and talents to accomplish things,” she said.

The gifts will now be on display at the school for all to enjoy.

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