NEWTON COUNTY — On Friday, Sept. 17,South  Newton Elementary School students celebrated the completion of a summer-long project with a trip to McDonald’s in Kentland.

The project, given to them by Laura Zak, the school counselor and student services advisor, is based on the Seven Habits of Happy Kids curriculum from Sean Covey. Students grades 1-5 are able to participate in the voluntary project over the course of the summer and return to school with documentation that they give to their teachers.

“It is completely optional, and this year, out of hundreds of students, I had 11 who completed this special project. The first year that I did this project, I had 6 students complete the challenge,” Zak explained. “This year, participation nearly doubled, which makes me so incredibly proud.

For the summer of 2021, Zak had students complete the “Sharpen the Saw” challenge, which encourages children to learn about self-care, self-renewal, and balance of physical, social, and emotional health. The students were asked to choose and complete 75 activities from a provided list of 100 ideas over the course of their vacation.

“The students learn about how important it is to take care of themselves, which makes it easier to be and do our very best,” Zak said. “My hope is that this project teaches students that when they make their own well-being a priority, life’s challenges are a little easier to tackle and they give themselves a better chance at success.”

The activities that Zak provided for the students to choose from focused on making social connections, exercise, eating healthy, acts of service and kindness, relaxation, and “discovering what kinds of things bring them joy.” She stated a desire to steer the children away from digital and technology based activities in order to encourage imaginative play and face-to-face interactions.

The students document their activities during the summer by taking pictures, writing about them in a journal, drawing, creating scrapbooks, powerpoint presentations, making a video, or collecting mementos. These are turned in to Zak at the end of the summer and reviewed, to share the students’ journey with their peers.

The students who completed the activities in the summer of 2021 are listed below:

William Alfaro-Cruz, 4th grade

Oakley Holloway, 3rd grade

Gavin DiRuzza, 3rd grade

Amelia Smith, 3rd grade

Rylan Stoller, 3rd grade

Jarrett Schulte, 2nd grade

Brock Durham, 2nd grade

Tate Smith, 2nd grade

Alaina Stoller, 2nd grade

Charlotte Smith, 1st grade

Vance Schulte, 1st grade

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