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South Valley Riverton Journal

Sixth graders spread hope through stories of survivor trees

Jan 05, 2023 02:52PM ● By Morgan Olsen

The Tree of Hope mural, created by Cassie Crandell’s sixth grade class at Riverton Elementary. (Cassie Crandell/Riverton Elementary)

Sixth graders at Riverton Elementary are spreading the power of hope and positivity to their school and community through their recent Tree of Hope project. 

“My sixth-grade students wrote and illustrated a picture book about the power of hope,” said Riverton Elementary sixth grade teacher Cassie Crandell. “In the book they personify the true stories of five survivor trees. Through telling these tree's stories, they touch on anxiety, depression, loss of family, the fear of going through something unexpected as a child and the need for help from others. All of the stories end on a note of hope and resilience.”

Crandell’s idea for the project stemmed from her experience visiting the 9/11 memorial in New York City several years ago. She found the survivor tree at the memorial fascinating and wanted to teach her sixth-grade students about its significance, along with the importance of other survivor trees throughout the world, through this Tree of Hope project.

“A long time ago I visited the 9/11 memorial and they have the survivor tree there,” said Crandell. “I remember taking a picture of it and felt a connection with a tree that had survived so many things.”

This experience led Crandell to research different survivor trees throughout the world, and these trees became the subjects of the project. 

“I did a Google search to find some of these trees and found a mural we could create and proposed it to my students,” said Crandell. “They loved it and took it from there. I guided them, but they did all of the work.”

In order for this project to inspire and involve the entire school, Crandell found a mural the students could create together to showcase their feelings of hope and resilience. 

“Each student was given a circle to color and draw or write what hope means to them,” Crandell said. “Each circle was put on the tree to remind students that together as a community, we can find hope with each other no matter what we have been through. We also printed and put the book on the wall by the tree for others to read.”

Crandell plans to have her students share the published hardcover book with each class at the school when the project is completed. 

“When our hardcover book comes back from the publisher, we will invite each class to join us by our Tree of Hope and read them our book,” she said. “Our goal and hope with this project was to unite our school as a community and to help everyone find a sense of hope. These kids have been through so much in their young lives, but they are resilient, just like the five survivor trees.”

As an educator, Crandell feels a responsibility to teach her students the power of hope and the value resilience will have in their lives beyond their schooling years. 

“I think that as a teacher it’s my responsibility to teach more than just curriculum,” Crandell said. “These kids are trying to figure out who they are, where they fit in, what kind of person they’re going to be, and they have dealt with a lot. The world in general right now is hard and a lot of times the world feels heavy.”

Students enjoyed working on this project and felt inspired by the messages they worked together to create as a class. 

“My favorite part was working on the different stories together because we had groups to work on each story with,” said Brooklyn, a sixth grader who helped with the project. “I loved seeing the colored circles going up on the tree. It was cool to see how the whole school came together to complete it.”

The sixth graders enjoyed working with their peers on the project, and felt they learned a lot about hope through their research. 

“I like how it brought a message of hope,” said Felipe, another student who helped with the project. “I think the message is really powerful and can help people as they go through hard times. Hope can help us get through anything.”

Through working on this project, the students learned that hope can come through different channels in different situations.

“I learned it doesn’t always have to be a human who brings hope,” said Brooklyn. “These trees had hope and survived a lot. This project taught me that hope can come from anywhere.”

Although this story was initially intended to inspire the sixth graders who created it and their peers at Riverton Elementary, Crandell hopes the community will also benefit from the messages found in the stories of these five survivor trees. 

“My hope is that the community will be reminded that we can be resilient and that we can have hope,” said Crandell. “Even these young kids can show us and can create something to remind us to have hope and resilience. It is not an easy world out there. Things can seem really bleak, but it’s inspiring that these sixth graders can come together and create something that brings a school and a community together. It reminds us that there are these trees that have survived crazy circumstances and are still alive today. We can learn from these trees, and we can learn from each other that we will make it through together.”

Purchase a copy of the book, Blossoms of Hope, here