Although she wasn’t asking our editors to sanction the notion of Santa Claus, little seventh-grader “Braelyn F.” was seeking our aid in asking “the Citizens of Tennessee” for help in understanding the faces, the places, the legacy, the practices and the way of life in our Volunteer State.
Braelyn, a student at Goff Junior High School in Pawtucket, R.I., is completing a semester-long project involving a written report, a poster board and an oral presentation on a U.S. state of her choice. Her selection is Tennessee, and with good reason. This young Rhode Island transplant once lived in our state, but her time here came too early in life so she has no real memories of our people, our cities, our culture nor our Southern lifestyle.
Her aim is to learn about Tennessee on her own and to do it with the assistance of Tennesseans. Assuredly, she — like any youngster of this electronic era — could capture a distant overview by using Google or any such source. But her geography teacher, Brian Gilmore, has the right approach. He wants the students to research their chosen state using the most reliable resource — the people.
Let us let Braelyn explain her project in a reprint of her handwritten letter:
“I am writing to you to say hi from the smallest state, Rhode Island. I am a seventh-grade student at Goff Junior High School in Pawtucket, R.I. In my geography class, we are making a project that lasts a whole semester, and it is on one of the 50 states in the United States. I chose to do my project on Tennessee, which is my favorite state. Could you please publish this letter in your paper so your readers could help me with my project?
“My teacher said that firsthand information from citizens of our chosen state would be much more helpful than information we find ourselves. If your readers could [send] me some information, it would help me so much. Your readers could send the information right to me at school. Thank you for your help with my project.”
On occasion, our newspaper receives such requests from schools from one corner of our nation to the next. A few years have passed since the last.
Truly, when youngsters send them our way they are a treat ... and not just because they serve as the epitome of human interest nor that their wording is cute.
It is because they tell a story.
They tell of a teacher in a region far away — the smallest state in the Union — who still believes in developing his students’ minds through honest research, a variety that lies far beyond the fingertips and is much more extensive than a few clicks atop a computer keyboard.
They tell of a young student who has embraced education and, even at such a tender age, who understands its value in getting her to a higher scholastic level. With the help of forward-thinking teachers like Pawtucket’s own, it is our hope her journey will take her to high school, to a university and to the furthest point of her life’s dream.
They tell of a small urban school district that struggles in its means — 80 percent of its students qualify for the free or reduced lunch program — yet works every day to reach into the minds, the hearts and the imaginations of those in its care.
They tell of a modest school that defies the odds by finding a way to succeed; by report, Goff is the only high-performing junior high school in its district.
We ask Cleveland and Bradley County residents, and any Cleveland Daily Banner reader, to forward a note of support to this little girl — letters, photographs, cards and mementoes that tell of our local, region and state legacies — to aid in her project. They may be sent to: Braelyn F., Goff Junior High School, 974 Newport Ave., Pawtucket RI 02861.
Such response is the straightest route to a child’s mind, one whose travels will warm the heart, feed the soul and grow the imagination.
Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.
And yes Braelyn, others surely will step forward to light your way.