Ellie Rice '21 and her pen pal, Shiela

For Courtney Neese ’00, Hill Athey Family Master of English, H Term was the chance for her to create a course that offered students an opportunity to explore difficult topics – many of which were unfolding in front of their eyes – in a safe environment, while also teaching them the importance of making an impact in the lives of others. While she designed a general outline for the course, #GetWellWorld, she allowed her students’ interest to dictate the path they followed as a class.

“We covered a broad range of topics including racism, discrimination, sexism, bullying, hunger, LGBTQ+, ageism, disability, hatred, illness, and homelessness,” explains Neese. “We were able to hit pause on our course curriculum to unpack and explore events that were unfolding in the news. The issues we were tackling were made all the more relevant by the news stories we were waking up to each morning.”

While educating her students on these issues was important to Neese, her biggest goal for the course was for her students to not be passive learners, but to take action and make an impact in the lives of others. She drew from a variety of resources to give her students including newspaper articles, poetry, TED talks, documentaries, novel excerpts, and short plays. After each class discussion with the seven students enrolled in the class, Neese assigned them an actional step to help the world get well.

“Education is the first step in creating awareness and building compassion, but I wanted my students to have an experience that was bigger than that,” notes Neese. “This group of students was able to see the immediate impact of their actions by creating posters, writing poetry, becoming pen pals with residents in retirement communities, designing and filling care bags for children in foster care, and performing random acts of kindness.”

Ellie Rice ’21 was interested in taking the course to better understand current events and how she - as one individual - could make the world a better place. She looked forward to the “actionable steps” assigned by Mrs. Neese after every class meeting as a way to do this.

“I have learned that by doing small random acts of kindness, we can make a huge difference in other people’s lives,” remarks Ellie.

The project that resonated the most with Ellie was decorating duffle bags for children in the foster care system, many of whom, she learned, carry their belonging in trash bags. The new bags were donated to the Together We Rise organization where they were then filled and given to foster children.

“Doing this project really opened my eyes to the small things that I take for granted,” states Ellie. “I am so glad that I have to opportunity to help out in any way I can to help those in need.” 

The students also were paired with residents at a local retirement community after a discussion on ageism. This connection is especially important during COVID, as those who are living in nursing homes and retirement communities often are isolated from loved ones. Ellie has been paired with two pen pals, Sheila and Cathrine.

“A sincere, handwritten letter can really brighten someone’s day,” explains Ellie. “By being a part of the Pen Pal project, I hope to make Sheila and Cathrine feel that they are not alone, and they are loved.”

Neese hopes that Ellie and all her students will take what they learned in her class and continue to take action and impact the lives of others in meaningful ways through their actions.

"I hope that they will use their voices to take small, positive actions that will create a larger ripple effect," states Neese. "My hope is that they have an open mind and a broader awareness of the ways in which so many people are struggling in this world. And my hope is that they will remember that while the world is hurting in many ways right now, it is also filled with great opportunity, great promise, and great love. While so many of the stories that we read about and see in the news are filled with hatred and greed, I am buoyed by the compassionate, empathetic students in our Hill community. They always remind me that so much goodness and hope remain.”