Dustin Shaw spent Tuesday afternoon fitting his world inside a composition notebook, writing about his community, his school and the war hero for whom it's named. The 12-year-old spoke with reverence about Sgt. Paul R. Smith. "He's the one who died for us in Baghdad," Shaw said. "I think it's an honor. We have education because of what he did."
At Paul R. Smith Middle School, it's the culture among the students to honor their soldier, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery in the 2003 firefight in Iraq that claimed his life. This year teacher Carolyn Erickson launched a traveling notebook project with other teachers to send the soldier's story across the country.
Students are creating about 200 journals that will be sent to other schools, from New York to California, where the recipients will be asked to "read it, add to it, and pass it on."
The goal is for the journals to travel the country and pick up stories from people in other parts of the United States. The recipients of the journals will also be asked to log a tracking number into an online system so Erickson's students can know where their journal is.
Erickson said she had brainstormed ideas over the summer to get her 7th graders interested in learning about America's states and their capitals. It hit her to launch the notebook project and include social media avenues such as Facebook for the students track their notebooks. She created a website, www.notebookamerica.org; and a Facebook page, www.facebook.com/notebookamerica.
"I felt like it was really important to include social media in the project. It's here and the students are using it, so we can't ignore it," Erickson said.
Erickson said she wanted the first wave of journal mailings to coincide with Veterans Day, with the opening page of each student's journal holding a picture of Sgt. Smith to honor his sacrifice.
"We've talked about how Paul Smith is someone we want everyone in America to know about," said Erickson. "We're proud of our solider. We're proud of our school's name."
The students have also had some fun using a picture of the school's eagle mascot sitting on a local beach. And each journal includes a picture of the student author pointing to Holiday on a map.
Erickson said the first journals will hit the mail next week. They are requested back from their journeys by May 2012.
"I think it's fitting they are going out around Veterans Day, and they will be coming back around Memorial Day," Erickson said.
The project has created a rare buzz throughout the school, said principal Chris Dunning.
"It's been really great," he said. "There is an excitement as they want to see them come back."