The JJSE Gratitude Tree, comprised of reasons why students and staff are grateful  

In mid-December, June Jordan School for Equity (JJSE) hosted Gratitude Day, a school-wide event with the intention of teaching how the practice of gratitude cultivates joy and builds positive school culture. Gratitude Day, funded by the Ed Fund’s Create Joy Grant, was an interactive, community event – and a day to remember for students, staff, and volunteers. Core activities included a school-wide banquet where teachers and students shared a beautifully designed potluck meal together, created a community art project, shared notes of gratitude with each other, engaged in special activities like receiving airbrush tattoos and taking photos in a photo booth, and enjoyed being in community with one another.  

Erin Hughes, JJSE’s Wellness Coordinator and staff member for over 15 years, has been organizing Gratitude Day for the Excelsior-based high school for many years – but hadn’t been able to host the annual event in four years due to COVID disruptions. Last fall, she applied for the Create Joy grant, eager to bring the tradition back. Ms. Hughes – in partnership with several other JJSE staff members, notably Ms. Erin Cavanaugh – got to work once they received the funding and came up with a plan to not just restore the tradition, but take it to the next level and invest in signage they’ll use for years to come. JJSE also received financial support from its Circle the Schools partner, NextRoll, to pull off the event. 

“I’m so grateful that the Ed Fund created this grant because these types of events and spaces are critical to creating the type of community we want to have,” reflected Ms. Hughes. “As a social worker who’s always supporting students with issues around trauma and mental health, they need that side [of support], but they need this side, too. They need to experience a space where they are shown that they’re special enough for us to make the space beautiful, to have a feast, and to have special things that they don’t typically have access to… That’s why we do this. I want to create something that hopefully gives them an experience in their body and in their mind that they remember.” 

JJSE’s staff completely transformed the gymnasium on Gratitude Day, turning it into a whimsical, interactive, and experiential space, with activities and food galore. In one corner, a 360 photo booth; in another, a vibrant balloon arch. A buffet-style lunch banquet – some of which was catered and others made with love from teachers and staff members’ kitchens – lined the north side of the gym and students enjoyed a delightful meal with friends at tables adorned with paper-flower bouquet centerpieces. At the end of the meal, Principal Chiu handed out several RICH awards to celebrate students who demonstrated JJSE core values: respect, integrity, courage, and humility. Student hooted and hollered for their friends; the energy and joy in the space was palpable.  

Throughout the event, students stood in line with their friends for pictures at a photo booth with a celebratory gold fringe background, while other queued for their first tattoos – airbrush tattoos, of course. Between activities, students and teachers took time to intentionally fill out the “Gratitude Tree,” an art installation that served as a visual reminder of the event and the value of gratitude within the JJSE community. Each student filled out a leaf that expresses what they are grateful for in their school community which they then added to a tree trunk. With the prompt, “I am grateful for…”, students and staff responded with: 

  • My friends and teachers who push me to become who I want to be 
  • Being able to attend this school and be in this community with so many amazing people that are supportive and kind 
  • The whole school’s existence and every single living, breathing body in it 
  • The people who have supported me through my career as a teacher, and for the students who always put a smile on my face 
  • My friends and family for being there when I need them 

As one might expect, some of the high school students wrote down cheeky responses, sharing their gratitude for cheese, turtles, and ducks. Most participants, however, were sincere in their contributions to the Gratitude Tree.  

Students also shared their gratitude for one another. “I witnessed the cutest little moment,” said Ms. Hughes. “Students filled out thank you cards [in advance] to give to somebody in the community and were supposed to give them out when they arrived [at the event]. There was a group of friends who met up at the door and they all had cards for each other, and they all screamed with excitement. It shows the impact of something so simple and sweet like taking the time to just say thank you to people.”  

The Ed Fund was proud to support this project which not only celebrated and created joy within the JJSE community, but also promoted student well-being and mental health by teaching about gratitude, a foundational aspect of joy and wellness. We are grateful to the incredible JJSE staff who planned and pulled off this special event – see below for photo highlights from Gratitude Day. To learn more about the Create Joy grant and how to apply if you’re a teacher from an eligible school, visit our website.  

Spring Create Joy applications are now open to teachers from eligible schools, and the Ed Fund is looking for volunteers to help us decide which Create Joy grant applications to fund! This grant will focus on end of school year celebrations, experiential learning, and enrichment opportunities supportive of social emotional learning, community engagement, and whole- child equity. We invite you to join us in reading these applications; your role would be reviewing five grants and scoring them based on a rubric that will be provided, asynchronously from Feb. 14-21. Click here to learn more and sign up.  

A student receives an airbrush tattoo on his forearm at a Gratitude Day station
Part of the funds from the Create Joy grant was spent on purchasing this new Gratitude Day sign, which will be used for years to come 
Students prepare to get their 360 degree photo taken in one of the Gratitude Day activation stations 
Award recipient De’Angelo poses after receiving his award for his leadership in demonstrating JJSE core values  
Students and staff enjoying the Gratitude Day feast 
The Gratitude Day centerpiece was handcrafted by event organizers