CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. -- Students from Chappaqua were recently featured on a television program that celebrates the ways ordinary folks are changing the world.
Brian O’Connor, a fifth-grade social studies teacher at the Seven Bridges Middle School, said he first introduced students to the show “CNN Heroes” in 2009.
His class was part of the network’s live broadcast of its 10th anniversary special on Sunday, Dec. 11.
One of those heroes is Ned Norton, a fitness buff and former health club manager who has devoted his life to providing free, or low-cost, strength and conditioning training to people with disabilities. He was first featured on the show in 2014.
O’Connor said Norton and other CNN Heroes are “the best examples in humanity, compassion, determination, kindness, commitment, awareness and optimism.”
Exposing students to these “amazing role models” contributes to their “growth and maturity,” he said.
By studying them, he said, they can bring “these life lessons to the classrooms, school and everywhere else they go.”
When CNN’s production team was looking for story ideas the anniversary special, a few of the people that were to be featured told them what the Seven Bridges’ students were doing.
Their letters and follow-up Skype conversations were, the team was told, a source of inspiration, enthusiasm and encouragement.
CNN crews visited the school in September to document how O'Connor’s classes learn about the CNN heroes, write the letters and prepare questions for the Skype sessions.
The CNN segment shows the students Skyping with Norton, asking him very intelligent questions and holding up handmade signs.
Each year, O’Connor’s students send letters of thanks, appreciation, encouragement and congratulations to everyday heroes and role models. They ask questions to learn more about them, too, he said.
O’Connor estimated that, since 2009, around 2,800 letters have been sent around the world, reaching as far as Indonesia, Nepal, Kenya, India, England, Colombia, Mexico, Canada and all over the U.S.
After receiving many gracious replies to the letters, Skype calls were added so students could ask questions and learn more about how each hero is making the world a better place.
“My hope is that students take their inspiration from these special 5th-grade experiences and continue to think about how they can use their skills, knowledge, and passion to help others as they get older,” O’Connor said.