By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools
It’s been eight years since Caroline Reitz attended her first day of kindergarten, but it has not been so long that she forgot how important the smile of a teacher helped to overcome her own first day fears.
Unfortunately, this year, those smiling faces will be hidden behind masks.
That’s why Reitz, an eighth-grader at Central Magnet School, thought she could ease those fears for elementary-aged students with the idea of the “Smile Project,” which provides teachers with their own personal smiling button.
“I just thought it would be so helpful,” Reitz said, “if I was able to make those buttons to help make them feel more comfortable.”
Reitz got the idea after being shown article, “Button Project lets children see the faces behind the masks,” in the July 16 edition of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center Reporter.
The article, written by Christina Echegaray, profiled nurses, staff and doctors at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.
After reading the story, Reitz adapted the idea to elementary schools and reached out to Tina Turner, principal at Stewarts Creek Elementary, in Smyrna, to ask if she would be interested in receiving the buttons.
Turner loved the idea.
After receiving an email with in upwards of 100 photos, Reitz borrowed a button-maker from one of her middle school teachers at Central and set about making buttons for the entire staff.
“I know a lot of the teachers there,” said Reitz, who previously attended the school, “so I thought it would be helpful to the students.”
Not only was the effort well-received at the elementary school, but several of Reitz’ classmates adapted the idea — much like Reitz did from Vanderbilt — and are now making buttons for the other elementary schools in Rutherford County.
In addition to Stewarts Creek, buttons were provided to Cedar Grove Elementary, Lascassas Elementary, Thurman Francis Arts Academy and Blackman Elementary.
As eighth-graders, Reitz and her classmates are each required to log 10 volunteer service hours.
She filed her paperwork with her counselor Friday morning and after only two days of school, has already fulfilled the requirement for the 2020–2021 school year. In addition to logging more than 10 hours on her project, she has also spent time helping to show other students how to use the button-maker.
Each student had to print the photos, cut them out, assemble the buttons and then deliver them to the respective schools.
“It feels really good to know I am helping other people and I’m helping other students feel more comfortable,” Reitz said. “It feels really good to start something that other people want to do to help people.”
Reitz concluded: “It is great because now all the other service work that I do throughout the year is just bonus and doesn’t feel like something that I have to do. I volunteer for the kids worship service at my church frequently, but I haven’t been able to do that recently because of COVID, so I’m hoping that I can find a way to volunteer more even though I can’t be there in person.”