Love Letter Contest Spurs Self Expression & Creativity

By Thomas Herold in Creativity on February 20th, 2007 / No Comments

Valentines Day began back in November for over 10,000 Los Angeles County children, as they entered the first annual Love Equals children’s Valentine’s Day writing contest, a joint venture of the Screen Actors Guild Foundation and Zimand Entertainment.

Love Equals reached out and touched students and teachers at 2500 Los Angeles County schools, crossing income and cultural lines, in neighborhoods such as Ranch Palos Verdes, Skid Row, Woodland Hills, Inglewood, Pasadena El Monte, Pacific Palisades and San Pedro. The teachers spurred their students, ages six through 11, to write and send in their essays and poems expressing what “love” means to them.

Love Equals is the brainchild of SAG Foundation’s Executive Director, Marcia Smith, and international philanthropist Henri Zimand. Zimand has organized worldwide love letter contests for adults for the past several years. Zimand made a generous grant to SAG Foundation to create the Love Equals contest, as the Foundation is a long-time leader in innovative youth literacy programs.

“Numerous teachers told us that the Love Equals contest was very powerful in nurturing self-expression, literacy and creativity in their students,” remarked Smith.

Love Equals is honoring 64 children and their teachers for their outstanding writing at a celebrity-studded Awards Ceremony on Valentine’s Day at Beverly Center.

“In addition to reading these outstanding writing submissions, what is so satisfying is hearing the teachers tell me their stories of students growing to love writing, and even becoming better people, in the process of entering Love Equals,” commented Zimand.

The following are a few of the teachers’ personal accounts.

Sheila McGuckin is a teacher at Langdon Avenue Elementary School in North Hills, one of the lowest income neighborhoods in Los Angeles. She prepped her class to enter Love Equals by holding a discussion circle for five consecutive days, on what love means to them. McGuckin witnessed her students’ behavior change as the discussions deepened. The students, who have very little materially, began to realize what they do have. They started helping each other with their Love Equals writings, and eventually the entire class decided to enter the contest together.

Arturo is learning English as a second language, and as the Love Equals entries had to be in English, he struggled with his essay about how proud he is that his father, a gardener, owns his own work equipment. School was ending for Christmas break, and the Love Equals deadline was a few days away. Just in time, a fellow student had Arturo dictate his words to her, and she printed out his entry, as she didn’t want him to miss the opportunity. Arturo is now a Love Equals Award winner.

Anita Wozniak of Charnock Road School in the Palms area noticed something different coming from her students when she gave them the Love Equals writing assignment. “For the first time, I saw them writing from their hearts,” she explained. Her student, Bo, another Love Equals winner, was adopted as a somewhat older child, and wrote about “the best day of his life with his new mom.” Love Equals motivated Bo to express his feelings about this very personal experience in such a unique way, Wozniak explained.

Ms. Cardenas, a teacher at Para Los Ninos Learning Complex, just around the corner from Skid Row, had been talking to her class about the value of being a giving person, in conjunction with Love Equals. One of her students, the longhaired Deberath, shocked her classmates when she came to class with all her hair cut off. She wrote in her award-winning Love Equals essay how it made her happy to make someone else happy by donating her hair for a cancer patient’s wig. Ms. Cardenas remarked, “The other students were fascinated with Deberath’s essay and kept asking her questions. It kept the topic of ‘giving’ open and alive in our class up till this day.” Many of Mrs. Cardenas’ students even wrote about Deberath in their own Love Equals entries.

Mary Honeyman of Calvert Elementary School in Woodland Hills, gave Love Equals as an optional assignment to her third-grade class. She had the class “free write” their ideas on the topic of love, to prepare them, encouraging them to make connections that are outside of the “mom and dad kind of love” box. One of her students, Saul is typically uncomfortable with his English writing, as he’s learning it as a second language, and was shocked to hear that he’d won a Love Equals Award. He found his inspiration in a book with a picture of a tugboat pulling along a much bigger boat. Saul asked Mrs. Honeyman, “The tugboat is helping the other boat, is that love?” Mrs. Honeyman replied, “Write about how you connect with that.”

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