Lynbrook Third-Graders 'Pay it Forward'
By: Betty Ommerman
Newsday, March 17, 2002
It's known as "pay it forward," and it's been adopted with a gusto that only third-graders can have when they latch onto an idea that excites them.
They are students in Rachelle R. Wolosoff's class at Waverly Park Elementary School in the East Rockaway section of the Lynbrook school district. The idea, suggested by Wolosoff, is to ask someone paying back a favor to do so with a good deed for three other people.
The suggestion is based on the movie "Pay it Forward," in which a boy tries to improve the world by doing a good deed for three people and asking each of them to do the same for three others. This ends up snowballing into a global outpouring of kindness.
Though Wolosoff doesn't expect her class to create the same domino effect, she hopes the idea will rub off on the students and community. Her suggestion was to have each student write a letter to someone who did something he or she appreciated.
"Although it's always nice to get a response, the joy would be in the doing," she said. "It helps teach the children the art of giving and the philosophy, which I often discuss with them, of looking at the positive side of things in life. It also helps them write letters that have a purpose. When children discover that, they'll grow to value the art of writing."
Wolosoff is quick to point out that she, too, grew to value writing as an art of praising the good deed.
"As a frequent visitor to Madison Square Garden, I would use the same ladies room near our seats," she said. "I would find the bathroom surprisingly immaculate whenever I was there. I spoke to the cleaning woman and told her I was impressed. She said she never heard anything positive from her boss."
Wolosoff then wrote letters to the Garden's president and the woman's boss and asked that the woman be notified of her comments and that her personnel file reflect those thoughts. Two months later Wolosoff received a call from the woman saying she was in a restaurant with her entire family. She added she could never have afforded taking them out to dinner, but it was a thank-you from her boss and the Garden's president as a result of Wolosoff's letters.
"She was so appreciative, and I felt on top of the world," Wolosoff said. "It felt so good to help someone like that."
Wolosoff started the class project toward the end of last year by writing to her students' parents asking their help in having their children write a letter of appreciation to someone. "Perhaps they, too, can find a situation where such a letter would be unusual and unexpected," she wrote.
The students were asked to show their parents copies of letters they sent and received and a written description of what they did to "pay it forward." The youngsters then shared their letters with their classmates and explained what the project meant to them. Copies of the letters ended up being displayed on the class bulletin board.
Many of the letters were sent to aunts, baby-sitters, Brownie troop leaders, museums, godmothers, grandmothers, the Library of Congress asking for interviews with or addresses of veterans so that the students could express appreciation, and New York City's former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Wolosoff also received letters of appreciation from her students and plans to pass along good deeds as well.
Third-grader Jolie Kemp of Hewlett Harbor wrote to a museum docent in November, remembering a visit she and her mother, Lois Kemp, took to the Rock Hall Museum in Lawrence for a country fair in October. The museum, the former home of Josiah Martin, which predates the Revolutionary War, has furnishings and toys from that period. "The house was soooo big, and I thought it was cool to see how people lived long ago," Jolie, 9, said. She also was impressed by the lumberjack show, which had "all kinds of cool stuff like throwing knives, chopping wood and log rolling." She ended her letter with "Thank you for a great day!"
In turn, she received a phone call later that month from a museum representative telling Jolie she appreciated that someone would take the time to write a letter about how much they enjoyed the fair. Jolie didn't catch the woman's name, but said, "I felt really good after her phone call because I made someone feel happy and rewarded."
Classmate Phillip Sebold, 8, of East Rockaway said, " 'Pay it forward' can spread if all of us do kind and helpful things for one another. If everybody in the world was busy being kind to one another, there wouldn't be time for terrorism that went on in New York [City] and Washington, D.C."