“A Premise of Building Hope:” Lewis HS Grads Return to Open Sixth Grade Time Capsule
For eight years, Wendy Casual, a former sixth grade teacher, has returned to Lynbrook Elementary School with newly-minted high school graduates who were once her students.
While in her classroom years six years earlier, Casual had her students build time capsules to be opened in June of their graduation year. The boxes included photos of the then-sixth graders, kind notes to friends, important elementary school projects, and letters to their future selves.
“The whole thing was based around a premise of building hope,” Casual, now a resource teacher and instructional coach at Ravensworth Elementary School, says. “It was a secret on my end to try to get them to get through high school and graduate. There are a lot of different pieces to this, but really the whole thing is grounded in getting them to think, to dream about their own futures.”
There were 32 students in Casual’s sixth-grade class of 2017. More than a dozen replied to an email from their former teacher in the spring of their senior year, inviting them to meet her in their elementary school cafeteria and open the time capsule.
Kathryn Cao, an 18-year-old who just graduated from Lewis HS, laughed as she walked into the cafeteria.
“The only thing I remember was putting in my detention slip,” Cao said. She found it in the time capsule. “It says `Your student has missed too many homework assignments and must attend detention on three Fridays to make up their work.’”
She groaned upon learning from current Lynbrook Principal Kathleen Sain that the school has since adopted a “no-homework policy” meaning current students wouldn’t have met her fate.
Casual, her teacher, said she has grown as an educator and would not follow this practice herself today.
“Kids deserve to be free after school so no homework now is a great practice,” Casual said.
“Sixth-grade me is like me right now,” Cao said. “I do my homework but maybe turn it in a tiny bit late? At the end of the day, I graduated and I’m heading to Northern Virginia Community College first, then on to art school after I get my associate’s degree to major in graphic design.”
Cao sifted through her mementos, including old sketch books and a biography project she had done of Sojourner Truth, complete with a hand-drawn portrait of the abolitionist and activist on the front.
“I love creating aesthestics in sketch books, I have always found it very calming since I was young,” Cao said. “Now I’m finding old sketches and saying “Oh wow, I drew that.”
Josue Delarca, also freshly graduated from Lewis HS, picked up his “Hopes and Dreams: Letter to My Future Self” done in sixth grade in Casual’s class.
“My hope is to learn English,” he reads from the letter he had written in 2018, no hint of an accent as he speaks. “At this point when I wrote this I couldn’t even spell English right, in fact probably half of the letter to myself is spelled wrong. Six years later, I think I did all right. Speaking English, I’ve got it down.”
Wignar Manzanares, another recent Lewis HS grad, looks down at her sixth-grade paper and is surprised.
“I see I said that my dreams are that I want to be a doctor or a police officer,” Manzanares says. “I don’t remember writing that but now I’ve graduated and I’m actually hoping I will be accepted into the police academy. Standing here reading that is pretty crazy.”
Casual says these are the types of reactions she hoped to see when creating the time capsules.
“I want the kids to say `I had a journey, I was successful and hopefully they recognize that Lynbrook Elementary played a part in it,’” she says. “I want them to look back and say what was my ideology when I was 12 years old and does it agree with my ideology now? They’re never too young to think about the future, we were always trying to get kids to think about the world beyond their sixth grade classroom.”
Watch WJLA/ABC 7’s coverage of the time capsule opening