Woodland High Language Arts students write and present their beliefs in "This I Believe" assignment

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Woodland High School students declared their beliefs in powerful, personal essays, and read those essays in front of a panel of judges as well as their classmates for the "This I Believe" assignment in Karla Bickmore's Language Arts classes.

WHS Language Arts students presented powerful essays declaring their beliefs in front of their classmates and a panel of judges.
WHS Language Arts students presented powerful essays declaring their beliefs in front of their classmates and a panel of judges. 

Bickmore started assigning "This I Believe" essays as a class project five years ago after listening to National Public Radio's segment with the same title where speakers present their thoughts about a wide variety of topics they believe in. "I had been a fan of NPR's 'This I Believe' segment for many years and thought it would be a great project for my students," said Bickmore. "I like the fact that the students have to declare that they believe in something; that alone is powerful."

Essay topics ranged widely including themes such as adopted students who never met their birth parents; students speaking of faith and what faith means to them; and others describing their childhood experiences which made them who they are today. One student described her experience of a suicide attempt following being bullied throughout school, and how her experience taught her the importance of abandoning stereotypes and making assumptions about others without knowing the truth. Another student spoke of his belief in allowing children to explore activities without too many limits as strict limits often result in kids who break rules and get in trouble.

Essay topics were varied including beliefs in faith, childhood experiences, and the importance of friendship.
Essay topics were varied including beliefs in faith, childhood experiences, and the importance of friendship. 

The judges on the panel selected the top three essays from each of the Language Arts classes including Bickmore's Advanced Placement Literature and Senior English classes as well as Aaron Blackwelder's English class. The selected students then presented their essays in another reading.

Bickmore finds the assignment elicits a lot of response and reaction from her students. "I heard some students this year say the project made them feel closer to their classmates after finding out things they never knew about one another," she said. "The project ends up providing a cathartic experience for the students to talk about themselves and their experiences." In one class, students had a huge group hug following their presentations. "Students told me they were proud of each other for being strong, brave, and willing to share," said Bickmore. "The assignment tends to be a very bonding experience with students reaching out to comfort and support one another."

Students report the project making them feel closer to their classmates as they understand better where one another is coming from.
Students report the project making them feel closer to their classmates as they understand better where one another is coming from. 

Bickmore intends to continue using the assignment in following years, too. "Every year, I am surprised by what students write about and are willing to share," she explained. "I tell them from the onset not to write anything they aren't able to say in front of the class, and I think the students like having that platform to share things they feel strongly about."