Lessons on Empathy: Students Apply Classroom Learning by ‘Spreading the Love’ to Caregivers

Central Florida students recently brought homemade letters to those serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic: health care workers.

The initiative, dubbed “Spread the Love,” was spearheaded by Rachel Allan, director of The Peace and Justice Institute at Valencia College, who connected with AdventHealth team members to facilitate collaboration between AdventHealth Orlando and Park Maitland School. Allan, whose children attend the school, is aware of the skills and values they teach their students.

“The theme for the year at Park Maitland is empathy,” Allan said. “This pandemic has been hard on our community and adjusting to a new normal has been challenging for the kids. It can be difficult for children to understand why we wear masks and why they can’t gather, participate in overnight sleepovers and socialize with friends the way they used to. I wanted to show them why in a way that was tangible – a way to help them identify with not only empathy, but our front-line caregivers who have heroically fought for the health of our communities.”

Allan organized the event with John Courson, assistant principal of the private elementary school, and collaborated with Susan Upper, nurse manager on the neurosurgical progressive care unit at AdventHealth Orlando.

The participating students created poster boards with flowers in the shape of masks and personalized letters for each essential worker on the COVID unit. Each personalized letter was delivered by the sixth grade class to the hospital. Due to COVID restrictions, the nurse manager and other employees at the facility met the students outside to retrieve the gifted items.

“In our hospitals in the past year, we could not have visitors due to safety precautions,” Upper said. “So, when COVID hit, our staff assumed the role of comforting our patients when their families could not be present. In speaking with the students, I tried to encourage them to visualize how they would feel if their parent or grandparent was the one in the hospital bed. They seemed to be empathetic and it was evident in the personalized cards they wrote to the staff.”

Students addressed the letters to each employee on the COVID unit. One note said:

“I am writing to express appreciation to you for serving us as AdventHealth COVID support. I am so happy you are helping defend the lives of patients. We need more people like you who are brave. We need more people like you who are strong and working to make the world whole again…”
— Sixth grade student

Courson typically organizes outreach activities in the community and seeks service opportunities for the students each year. COVID-19 affected the original plans, but students took this time as an opportunity to do outreach for essential workers.

“The truth is, empathy is a universal message,” Courson said. “To feel and express empathy is one of the greatest gifts of being a human being. When we take the time to remember the experiences of our essential workers, health care providers and the families impacted by COVID, we have a community responsibility to give back in even the smallest of ways.”

The handmade creations by the students of Park Maitland School currently line the walls of the COVID unit, reminding Upper and her colleagues at AdventHealth Orlando that they matter.