Murdy Elementary sixth-graders celebrate local heroes through ‘The Gratitude Project’

How do you thank war heros, veterans and others who have made noble sacrifices or overcome great challenges?

For sixth-graders at Murdy Elementary School in Garden Grove, it’s about taking the time to hear and share their stories.

Students hold an oversized check
At an assembly celebrating “The Gratitude Project,” Murdy Elementary students present a check to the Veterans Canine Intelligence Academy, which trains service dogs for disabled vets.

Teachers Valerie Del Carlo and Mark Keller launched “The Gratitude Project” at Murdy four years ago, challenging their sixth-grade classes to interview real-life heroes and reflect on their contributions through writing and art.

Some choose to talk to older relatives, uncovering new details of their family legacies. Others interview special guests. But each interaction reveals a powerful story that helps further students’ understanding of abstract concepts like freedom, hardship, bravery and love of country.

On May 31, Murdy completed this year’s edition of “The Gratitude Project” with a special assembly that gave students the chance to share what they learned from interviews with such notables as 98-year-old Tuskegee Airman and U.S. Army veteran Lt. Col. Robert J. Friend, Vietnam veteran and former U.S. Army Ranger 1st Lt. Dan Barlow, U.S. Navy Seal and Vietnam veteran Andy McTigue and South Vietnamese veterans Toan Pham, Dien Ho and Thuan Nguyen.

“The Gratitude Project is a unique and powerful project that brings history to life and makes a lasting difference in students in a way that no textbook ever could,” Garden Grove school board member Lan Nguyen said.

The ceremony opened with a performance of “America the Beautiful” in both English and Vietnamese, sung by sixth-graders and transitional kindergarten students from Murdy’s Vietnamese dual language program.

Students also sold handmade “Gratitude Project” key chains to raise money for the Veterans Canine Intelligence Academy led by McTigue, the Navy Seal. In fact, students raised more than $1,000 for the program, which trains service dogs for veterans with disabilities.