Although the Christmas season can be magical, some seventh grade students at C.C. Griffin Middle School now realize there is a very different way some people will experience the holidays.
Four teachers developed a project to teach the students about homelessness in our nation and surrounding communities.
After much research and approval from Principal Christy Bullock, the teachers planned an optional educational project and invited the 108 students on their teaching team.
Forty-eight students participated in a recent Friday night project in November.
"We felt that to make this as realistic as possible, we would have to ask the students to first give up the comforts of their homes, then experience what one man described as not being able to sleep at night because of the cops bothering him," said Genesis Sleight-Price, an English language arts teacher.
The students were instructed to bring only a blanket and a cardboard box to sleep in and to meet at the gate located at the top of the school driveway.
Next, they walked down the dark driveway to the front of the school and set up their boxes for sleeping.
As they walked, several students asked others to "wait up, don't leave me," and the group tried to stay together.
Later, the students realized that homeless people are usually alone.
Once boxes were set up, the students were led inside the school to participate in four informational workshops led by the teachers.
Danna Wilson, a science teacher, showed the short documentary "Voices of the Homeless." The film contains personal interviews of homeless men discussing how and where they sleep, why they are homeless and what they expect from their lives.
Students were touched by the videos that Wilson showed about homeless Americans; they could not understand how people could survive the cold every night.
One clip showed images of homeless, including small children, sleeping on the streets, bringing many students to tears. One homeless person did not even know his last name because he and his parents had been homeless for so long.
Students remarked, "How could you not know your last name," according to Wilson. Following the film, Wilson opened a discussion of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, a five-stage model depicting the order of basic requirements necessary for human survival.
For the second activity, social studies teacher, Kristen Masten, led a discussion of what was most valuable to the students, and what physical items were important to them.
Sleight-Price read the book "Kids Who Can't Go Home," a story of students who are left homeless. The group then looked at government-funded services and social services to explore what assistance is available to the homeless.
The last activity, led by Pepper Martin, a math teacher, was the reading "The Treasure of Lemon Brown," a story about a teen who is unhappy with his parents and runs away. He meets Lemon Brown, a man who is homeless, and spends time with him, experiencing a day in the life of the homeless.
With the conclusion of the activities, the students went outside to their boxes to settle in and sleep. They were given a small amount of water in a paper cup, which they were told to hang on to and not lose, and a small snack but only if they were willing to give up something they had with them.
Many students were upset about this, but many chose to give up their shoes, which later they regretted after having to walk on the cement in 44-degree weather.
Students tossed and turned, and the reality that they would be out in the cold set in; some were coughing, and the teachers went around telling them to place their faces under their blankets to keep them warm.
Eventually, they became quiet and within an hour, at about 11:30 p.m., all students but one were asleep.
To garner the full experience of a homeless person's difficulty finding a place to sleep, the teachers had collaborated with the Concord Police Department and arranged for officers to come and disrupt them.
At approximately 1 a.m., the police officers abruptly awakened the students with flashlights telling them to "move - you can't sleep on a sidewalk - move."
The teachers made the students take all their boxes and blankets and walk into the gym.
Many were confused and asked why the police told them that they could not sleep there.
The teachers reminded them that the law prohibits sleeping in public places.
With the move, many lost their paper cups, intended for juice the following morning.
Once settled on the floor of the gym, most students fell asleep.
When morning came, that little paper cup became very important to the students.
Those who still had it, received juice and those who lost it, had to get water from a fountain.
"Students seemed to be very thankful for the small things they had," said Sleight-Price. "They asked about getting back the things they had given up for the snack the night before, and they were simply grateful for being able to come inside when the temperature had been so low outside,"
The success of the project was the education and awareness the students received.