In an effort to encourage empathy and compassion, English Language Arts teacher Karen Wunderlich Loewe asked her students to complete an interesting activity.
Karen Wunderlich Loewe is an English Language Arts (ELA) teacher at Collinsville Middle School in Oologah, Oklahoma. While most teachers believe their jobs end when the school day does, that's not something that Karen can get behind. In an effort to teach empathy, compassion, and kindness — all important qualities that educators rarely ever include in their lesson plans — she decided to set up an interactive activity for her middle school students. Called "The Baggage Activity," she asked her students to write down something that was bothering them on a piece of paper (anonymously, of course), crumple it up, and throw it across the room. They were then instructed to pick up any ball of paper that had landed next to them, unfold it, and read the message out loud. What transpired was a moving and unforgettable class.
After a student read the message they had picked up, Karen would ask the student who wrote it to stand up and share more if they wished to. Though some children chose not to explain their experiences further, there were several who stood up to discuss their personal baggage. The students shared stories about suicide, parents in prison, drugs in their family, being left by their parents, death, cancer, and even losing pets. Needless to say, many students were left in tears — out of being relieved of a heavy burden by simply being able to talk about it, or out of empathy for their friends and classmates.
Karen wrote about the experience in a now-viral post uploaded to social media platform Facebook. She stated: I’m here to tell you, I have never been so moved to tears as what these kids opened up and about and shared with the class... The kids who read the papers would cry because what they were reading was tough. The person who shared (if they chose to tell us it was them) would cry sometimes too. It was an emotionally draining day, but I firmly believe my kids will judge a little less, love a little more, and forgive a little faster. The bag [of messages] hangs by my door to remind them that we all have baggage. We will leave it at the door. As they left I told them, they are not alone, they are loved, and we have each other’s back. I am honored to be their teacher.
The post currently has over 912,000 reactions and 300 comments. It has also been shared over 637,000 times. Many Facebook users praised Karen for her inventive activity. Michelle Burwell, a parent of one of Karen's students commented: This is awesome! [I] love that you would take the time to do this in class. I’m sure it was very impactful for the students to see outside of themselves and know they aren’t alone. There is a reason why you are my kids’ favorite teacher. Friend Patty Austin posted: No wonder those kids love you even after they leave you. You are touching so many young hearts and minds. Kudos, girl. While sharing trauma is not always a comfortable experience and may place unnecessary pressure on children to perform emotional work that they aren't ready for yet, Karen gave her students a platform to vent instead of bottling things up. For this, we're sure her students are grateful.