Students at Sleeping Giant hope new event will inspire joy in community |

Students at Sleeping Giant hope new event will inspire joy in community

Students and parents at Sleeping Giant School share a little joy on Wednesday, March 29, 2023, while enjoying food during a screening of “Mission: Joy — Finding Happiness in Troubled Times.” The event also features short films, “Joy Stories,” that were made by students at the school.
Nicole DeCrette/Courtesy photo

On Wednesday, March 29, booths created by students at Sleeping Giant School greeted guests as they walked through the main entrance of the building on their way to the screening of ”Mission: Joy — Finding Happiness in Troubled Times.”

Created by Academy Award-winning director Louie Psihoyos, the film explores the remarkable friendship between Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. The film was the centerpiece of the student-led evening that also showcased a selection of student-produced short films, or “Joy Stories.” The night was designed to spread a little glee and was the culmination of a unit the students have been taking part in for the last nine weeks.

“It was just special to be in a space to put joy on a platform,” said Halli Benson, a life skills teacher at the school. “It was super special last night to see the families, the students and everybody joining for the purpose of exploring joy. It was a joy to see that, and it was really special.”

Benson and media specialist Nicole DeCrette have been working together on the unit. Benson explored the science of joy, ways to increase joy and spread that joy to other people, while DeCrette introduced students to new mediums that allowed them to create short films based around the same theme of joy.

“I thought this was a kind of hard assignment because I have a lot of things that bring me joy,” student Delaney Litzau said. “I have a lot of things that bring me joy, so it took a little while to figure out what I was going to do.”

She chose to tell a story of friendship, while classmate Mikey Spiehs made a film that showcased his comedic side and focused on making the best out of a bad situation.

“I didn’t know what the script was going to be at first, but I definitely knew it was going to be about comedy because I’m an attention seeker,” Spiehs said as the classmates around him chuckled. “To be honest, it was really fun.”

The poster for an evening of spreading joy at Sleeping Giant School on Wednesday, March, 29, 2023.
Nicole DeCrette/Courtesy photo

Spiehs and many other sixth graders also created booths. His featured a game he created that reflected his joy of gaming and the process of making them. He said it also brought him joy to share the game with visitors at the event.

“I made a couple of games,” Spiehs said. “I did a bunch of coding with (a free game editing program) and then I made this cool game called ’Lady Bug Warfare.’”

His classmate, Adeline McNeal, joined him in a booth that also featured several other games that people could play as they walked by. Her “Joy Story” expressed the joy she feels when she is with her family.

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“It was about me and my family skiing,” McNeal said. “I chose it because it gave me joy and also gives all my family joy.”

Litzau’s “Joy Story” was about the gratitude she has for her best friend Sophia, and classmate Andrew Weinman made his about his connection with his new puppy, Ringo.

“I like I pretty much knew what I was going to do right away,” Weinman said. “They made it pretty easy for us.”

Students and parents visit the Joy Stations prior to a film screening for “Mission: Joy-Finding Happiness In Troubled Times” at the Sleeping Giant School on Wednesday, March 29, 2023.
Halli Benson/Courtesy photo

DeCrette explained that all the sixth graders at Sleeping Giant School, about 38, made “Joy Stories.” However, Wednesday’s presentation was limited to films made by students Austin Kelly, Sophia Elertson, Leah Bannister, Micah Seng and Zoe Finnegan.

The teacher said getting students to realize that they had a story to tell was one of the most challenging parts of the unit.

“It’s sort of an abstract idea of what brings you joy. It’s very open-ended, and it’s very personal,” DeCrette said. “As far as getting them to think about themselves as storytellers, I almost had to walk through the process working with them one-on-one, interviewing and pulling the story out. Initially, they don’t see themselves as having stories.”

Students and parents visit the Joy Stations prior to a film screening for “Mission: Joy — Finding Happiness In Troubled Times” at the Sleeping Giant School on Wednesday, March 29, 2023.
Halli Benson/Courtesy photo

Many of the “Joy Stories” reflected family pets and their adoption stories — a common theme among sixth graders. Others found “Joy Subjects” in their friendships, their interests and families.

This was the first year for the student-led screening, but both teachers are excited to see the event continue and grow in the future. This year’s event had limited resources and was limited to the sixth-grade students and their families. Benson would love to see the night opened to everybody in the community.

“The goal of the event is to screen the film but also for the kids to spread joy,” Benson said. “That’s why there are Joy Stations in the beginning, and our hope was people would go to the Joy Station and find more ways to spread joy and then experience more joy in their own life.”

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