2020 Essay Contest Question:
If you were a guest on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, what valuable lesson would you share with the audience?
$500 - 1st Place Winner:
Norwin High School
Who are the people in your neighborhood? Over these past five months the world has changed. Vacations canceled. Birthdays with no parties. School online. During a time when the world seemed devastated, my family began walking. We began really getting to know the amazing people that live in our neighborhood. These individuals have opened our eyes and our hearts.
Unlike Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, we may not have a Dr. Platypus, but we do have a nurse Nicky. Nicky wears two masks (and a super hero cape if you ask us) as she works with her patients at the hospital multiple times each week. We may not have a Chef Brockett, but we do have a Steve who would randomly bring us over smoked chicken and leave it on our porch for dinner. We may not have an Officer Clemmons, but we do have Agents Doug and Pete who work tirelessly to keep our neighborhoods safe. In all of these individuals, their innate kindness has been absolutely refreshing in this often overwhelming time.
I am sure Mr. Rogers must have felt this way too as he walked around his neighborhood. All of these amazing people doing good. I watched his show religiously growing up. Looking back now, if I could teach just one lesson to my students on the set, shockingly enough, it would not be a lesson on math, English, science or social studies, it would be a lesson on kindness because in my opinion, that is what we need more of right now. These may be unpredictable, unprecedented, and down-right scary times, but just doing a small, random act of kindness can make a immense difference in someone’s day. I would encourage kids, like I do my own children, to practice kindness in some or all of the following ways:
K – keep your environment clean and pick up litter that you’ve dropped outside.
I – invite someone to lunch.
N – notify a neighbor that you can be a pet or plant sitter while they are away.
D – design a card to deliver for a birthday or a thank you for someone who did something special for you.
N – neatly clean up your room without being asked.
E – enjoy playing with a friend, especially someone new that you don’t talk to all the time.
S – say compliments to people you know, or even those that you don’t.
S – smile when someone makes you happy, even if that smile is hidden behind a mask.
Take the time to be outside enjoying all of the magnificence our world has to offer. Meet new people, try new things, and maybe you, too, will make it a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
$200 - 2nd Place Winner:
Summit Township Elementary School
“Get out of my way!” I shout through the windshield at the car who just cut me off. What a disaster of a day this was and now I’m trying to get home with my groceries in the pouring rain. My mood fits like a glove with the weather, gloomy and dark.
As my face is pelted, I attempt to carry all the bags at once and hold on to my trusty umbrella at the same time. A strong gust of wind blows me and my load off balance. Splat! My bags of food spill out all over the flooded sidewalk. Instant meltdown, I’m just shouting at the rain and kicking the bags of food.
The wind picks up again and instantly I’m flying with my umbrella through the sky like Mary Poppins! I clutch the umbrella handle so tight my knuckles turn white.
Suddenly, I begin to descend on what looks like a quaint little town. My umbrella steering is subpar as I end up on the top of a tree!
“Are you in need of assistance?” a voice asks. Up on a branch pops X the Owl from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood! I must be dreaming. Maybe I fell on the sidewalk and hit my head?
X the Owl repeats his offer for help. I reply that getting out of the tree would be nice. A ladder materializes as Mr. Rogers’ head appears between branches.
Down on solid ground, I look around at a menagerie of smiling characters and audience members. Lady Aberlin offers me her cozy, dry coat. Henrietta Pussycat provides me a cup of hot milk to warm from the inside. Mr. McFeely made a quick trip to the First Aid store for a band aid to cover the scratch on my forehead.
The compassion and love shown on the faces of these strangers is amazing. Their kindness is softening my negative, overwhelmed self. Daniel Tiger embraces me and exclaims, “You look like you need a hug to turn your frown upside down.” That reminds me of what I teach to my students. “A positive attitude makes the world shine brighter!”
All of these characters/people want to help me and they don’t even know me. They don’t care that we look or sound different, especially with my “Yinzers”” accent.
I pick up my umbrella to shake off some water and as soon as I touch it, it begins to whir and stir like a remote-control drone.
Next thing I know, I am soaking wet sitting on my sidewalk with groceries all around me. Instead of being angry, I am thankful for the rain to water our earth, thankful to be able to afford the food for my family, and thankful that I can laugh at myself for the drenched state I was in.
As I was reflecting on my adventure, I hear a trolley whistle in the distance. I smile knowing that the Neighborhood and audience shared in my valuable lesson on positive perspective.
$100 - 3rd Place Winner:
Lenape Technical School
Palms sweating, stomach tingling, and a dry mouth, all the while I’m just trying to remember to breathe; nevertheless, I’m so excited. Mr. Rogers is live in MY CLASSROOM ready to film a new episode. Places everyone, it is time to start, get ready, we go live in 3-2-1.
“Hello, neighbors today we have a very special guest who is going to share a very valuable life lesson. This lesson is brought to you by this very special teacher. Let us meet her,” said Mr. Rogers.
The teacher responded, “hi everyone, have you ever heard of the saying when life gives you lemons make lemonade! This a powerful statement that I let shape my 2019-2020 school year. It hangs a right here on the wall of my classroom as a reference to all high school students who enter my door daily. Over the course of the previous school year, I taught students how to apply this in their lives. Is it easy? No, but can it be done, yes. Isn’t it amazing what a little sugar can do change that sharp tangy taste into something refreshing? These students and I would talk about a situation and try to find the something sweet hidden inside. Little did I know how powerful it would become in this uncertain year. I even struggled with applying it back in March at first when I had to learn to teach all over again online. As a seasoned teacher, it felt like my first year all over again. My workload doubled, I struggled, and missed those very students who I was helping to shape into incredible adults. Yet, I did find joy when I changed my perspective. My lemonade moment was when I realized I was granted extra time to spend with my young daughters. See changing your life is all about your perspective. Can you take a frown and turn it upside down into a smile? The answer is yes, and it starts by finding the joy even when it seems hard to do. Sometimes it is not there on its own and it takes hard work, dedication, and the power that is inside you to change the situation to something greater and brighter. This is my valuable lesson, a lesson that it is hard to apply when times are hard. But there is always a reward if you apply yourself to find the something sweet in a sour moment.”
Mr. Rogers' response to end the segment, “while television neighbors, I want you to remember to find the joy in all life moments. I hope this teacher has taught you a lesson, you will remember and apply when life gets hard. Life is better when you smile and that reminds me [cue music] it’s such a good feeling to know your alive, it’s such a happy feeling; you're growing inside. And when you wake up ready to say: I think I’ll make a snappy new day…”
The Good Neighbor Award:
Dayton Elementary School
Wow! This is a tough question. As an educator of over 25 years, there are so many important lessons that students need to know. Many times, adults assume that children know a particular social grace or way of navigating social interactions. That is not always the case. The simplest life lessons are not always modeled or practiced at home. That’s where teachers and television shows such as Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood play an essential role in character development.
I can visualize myself sitting on the bench with Fred Rogers. He in his cardigan and me in my comfy sweater. After some friendly conversation and a special visit from Mr. McFeely, I would then have my chance in the spotlight. My lesson would focus on kindness. Easy concept, right? It’s what the world needs now and in the future. More kindness. As educators, we talk about kindness. We, hopefully, model kindness. We encourage kindness. My message would be simple and clear. Find the kind. I want to teach my audience to look for kindness. All too often, kids are told to be kind. Be kind. Be kind. Be kind. As a parent, I say it every day as my teenage daughter and recent graduated son leave the house. Now, I want to teach my audience to find the kind. Find areas where someone was kind to you. Perhaps, if areas of kindness are noticed more, the motivation to be kind in return will grow. Simply stated, find the kind.
Simple? Not exactly. My experience in the classroom provides data that children frequently overlook acts of kindness. How many times has a child been told to say thank you? On the contrary, children are quick to react when they have been wronged or unjustly treated. I want to teach children to react to the positives. To accomplish more positive reactions, find the kind is the goal. With the help of Mr. Rogers, I would demonstrate 3 areas to find kindness: expressions, words, and actions. Role playing and modeling would be key elements in the lesson. Together, Mr. Rogers and I would also demonstrate how to react to someone who is being kind. For example, smile back at them, give a complement, or help them with a task. Let’s find the kind and recognize it. React in a way that makes everyone involved feel valued and appreciated.
My final message would be that kindness comes in a multitude of forms. Kindness has no color. It has no gender. There is no age limit. Finding kindness in the expressions, words, or actions of others produces a feeling of love and gratitude which is often overlooked. In a tough world, accentuate the kindness and respond with gratitude. It would make for a better school environment. Start small with find the kind at an early age, and the sky is the limit of how far kindness can travel.