Garden Grove campus honors local heroes with ‘The Gratitude Project’

Sixth-graders from Murdy Elementary School in Garden Grove recently capped a yearlong learning project on the power of gratitude with a celebration that honored veterans and others who have overcome challenges and made sacrifices on behalf of future generations.

“The Gratitude Project” culminated with an assembly on June 1 that featured 97-year-old Tuskegee Airman and U.S. Army veteran Lt. Col. Robert J. Friend; Luc Lien Nguyen, a former interpreter with the U.S. Special Forces; 2nd Lt. Dan Barlow, a Vietnam veteran and former U.S. Army Ranger; 2nd Lt. Khang Manh Tu, a Vietnam veteran who served with the U.S. Army Signal Corps; artist Hai Pham; and U.S. Navy Seal and Vietnam veteran Andy McTigue. 

An assembly at Murdy Elementary School
Sixth-grade teacher Valerie Del Carlo speaks during an assembly in celebration of The Gratitude Project at Murdy Elementary School.

All were interviewed this year by Murdy students, who channeled their subjects’ stories into original artwork and writing assignments. Students also conducted interviews with older members of their own families, revealing local histories that personify freedom, hardship, bravery and love of country.

Sixth-grade teachers Valerie Del Carlo and Mark Keller launched the Gratitude Project three years ago, tying together standards-based lessons with college and career skills such as collaboration and communication.

In a broader sense, Del Carlo said, the project is about preparing students to be responsible stewards of a society they will soon inherit.

“As a sixth-grade teacher, I look at this pivotal moment in my students’ lives,” she said. “I look at the pressures that are looming ahead and the expectations. My premise is, how can we ask students to take responsibility for that which they are not first grateful?”

“We can’t ask them to go out in the working environment without giving them a sense of the world beyond themselves,” Del Carlo added.

Lan Nguyen, president of the Garden Grove Unified School District Board of Education, said the project leaves a lasting impression on the sixth-graders who participate.  

“The Gratitude Project is a one-of-a-kind living history lesson that has a profound, life-changing impact on students in a way that no textbook could,” he said.

You can learn more about this year’s interviewees by watching the school-produced video below.