A creative writing class had students step out of their comfort zone and into the shoes of a stranger.
Grade 11 students at Belmont Secondary School were tasked with writing a story about the person that may have owned a pair of shoes they selected for the assignment.
About 30 students took part in Walk a Mile in my Shoes, explained Bev Sawatzky, a Belmont teacher who has been with the Sooke School District for about 20 years.
“The St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store and staff donated a real variety of footwear,” Sawatzky said. “That included a young child’s cute little pair of cowboy boots. We really appreciated their generosity.”
The students explored what kind of person may have owned the footwear, sharing what they might be like and the circumstances surrounding their life and their footwear, with a focus on empathy in stories that ranged from 300 to 400 words.
Sawatzky chose empathy for a topic because “Everyone would like to live in a non-judgmental, compassionate society.”
“We can achieve that by identifying with someone else through their feelings,” she noted. “If you can make something fun in a writing course, it engages the students more. You don’t want to build just literacy, but enhance intelligence as well. The students enjoy it, which is very rewarding as a teacher.”
Using something more inspirational than a photograph makes it more real and more tangible, Sawatzky added. “It’s my favourite course to teach.”
Sawatzky is already looking forward to the second part of the assignment, which will pair the students to create stories where the characters they wrote about come together.
The Old Black Vans is an example of one of the assignments handed in.
Old Black Vans
“You are a horrible mom!” I screamed, with tears in my eyes, while I put on my old, black, hated Vans Sk8-Hi.
I grabbed my headphones and my hooded black jacket while I saw her stumble up to me in the corner of my eye.
“Don’t you dare say something like that!” she babbled and I ran out of the shabby, cheap apartment near New York City.
I slammed the door as hard as I could and the hinges made a shrieking sound. As I flew down the stairs of the building, I felt my toes bumping into the front of my shoes; it hurt, but I was used to it. They had been a gift from my father two years ago for my 15th birthday, when he was still with us. My feet grew too big for them almost six months after; they were a size 6.5.
We used to live in a big mansion, with a gigantic garden in a safe community. I had a lot of friends at my old school and I had time to meet up with them often. We enjoyed a fantastic childhood, until my father left for work one day and never came back. Nobody knows where he went or what happened.
I tried to text him several times, but it never even got delivered; it was like I texted a number nobody owns. Since then, my mom lost her job and herself in the consumption of alcohol and our lives turned about 180 degrees.
I finally left the building and put the big hood on my head because it was already dark, which meant dangerous in our run-down complex. I plugged my cheap headphones in my ears, turning the volume up, until the sound screamed in my ears and I disappeared in my overwhelming thoughts. Why does she always have to be like that – always drunk, never listening?
I just want us to have a life that is worth living again. I want my sisters to be able to live an enjoyable childhood and I want to be able to afford new, admirable shoes. Mine are getting older and as I get more broken, they do too. Most people would wear these sneakers only in their free time; I have to wear them anywhere – to a job interview, to school or even to a doctor appointment – it doesn’t make an adequate impression.
I often imagine throwing them with all my problems in the dumpster; I never want to lay an eye on them again. They simply represent the nonexistent love that my father felt for us. My heart hurts every time they catch my sight. I only feel anger toward him. Since he left everything went down and nothing is like before. He is the reason my siblings grow up with an alcoholic mother who doesn’t care about them at all. He is the reason I lost most of my friends because I have to work, study and take care of everything the whole day. He is the reason for everything bad happening to me. I hate him. I hate these shoes.
I ripped them off my feet and smashed them into the ground, while releasing an angry scream and collapsing onto my knees on the dark sidewalk. My head felt like it wanted to dig itself a hole in my arms, which were resting on my skinny legs, and never come out again.
Suddenly I felt tiny raindrops hitting my jacket. Within a few seconds, they started to grow bigger and bigger, until they even drowned out the loud music in my ear. “Ouch, seriously?” I shouted, stood up and started to run to a shelter nearby.
My eyes spotted a brown, wooden bench sitting in the back. I sat down for another hour, just listening to the sound of the raindrops hitting the hard asphalt of the street and feeling lonely in my thoughts.