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School Stories

A Third Grade Lesson on Purpose

Julie O’Connor, Grade 3 Teacher
I recently read the autobiographical children’s book La Mariposa to my group of third graders. This story details a young immigrant boy’s experience at his new school and the challenges he experienced by not knowing the language of his new country. As picture books often do, this sparked a deep and meaningful conversation in our classroom. Our discussion took a few twists and turns, and we found ourselves focusing on the idea of “purpose.”
It was one of those moments in teaching that you want to bottle up and revisit often. When I asked my students to describe “purpose,” I was reminded of how blessed I am to teach such kind and insightful students. With great conviction, they shared their definitions, and collectively we had a class full of purpose-filled children. One third grader said, “We need to give our all to kindness.” Another added, “We should go to the one who is alone.” Loving people and thinking beyond ourselves was explained by my students that afternoon. Investing in others and making the focused effort to connect with our community was imagined in beautiful detail as my students focused on the word “purpose.” 

With a common purpose at the forefront, we dove into our immigration unit, looking through a lens of compassion and empathy. This unit means so much to the third grade team of teachers because of the impact it has on the students in the second semester. Beginning each January, we study the terms “immigrant” and “refugee,” read countless picture books about children who left their home countries, and spend significant time focusing on how it might feel to learn and grow in a new place where the food, language, and expectations are vastly different to one’s previous experiences. The most meaningful part of this unit is when immigrants in our community share their personal stories with our students. Third graders practice active, empathic listening and then ask prepared interview questions, learning to gently respond to body language and tone. Our students gain a global perspective in a beautifully diverse world by valuing people’s stories. 

Last year, we ended our immigration study focused on refugees in the Denver community. Our students were perfectly motivated by their purpose of caring for others as they desired to make a difference in the lives of those in need. Project Worthmore is a Denver-based organization that supports refugees, and their vision is “a world in which all people are valued, included, and empowered.” We had this same goal in mind as we prepared care packages filled with supplies for refugee families supported by Project Worthmore. 

Loving and caring for people is something children do so well. I have always known how blessed I am to teach at our school, spending each day settled in thoughtful curiosity, and laughing and learning with some of my favorite 8- to 9-year-olds. Our immigration unit provides many opportunities for powerful conversations, just like the one about purpose, where my students remind me of what is most important.  

To learn more about Project Worthmore, please visit projectworthmore.org

Graland Country Day School

Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1927, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.