Ned Norton receives a hero's welcome

"I began introducing my students to CNN Heroes in 2009 because, as the motto of the show says, they are everyday people changing the world," explained teacher Brian O'Connor. "They are the best examples in humanity, compassion, determination, kindness, commitment, awareness, and optimism." Brian feels that exposing students to these heroes and their projects is beneficial to their growth and maturity and, in turn, students study these amazing role models and look for ways to bring these life lessons to the classrooms, school, and everywhere else they go.

Students first watch segments from the CNN Hero Awards each year and discuss the difference these amazing people are making in the lives of others less fortunate. They send letters of thanks, appreciation, encouragement, and congratulations to the different heroes; students also ask questions in their letters to better learn from these new role models. Since 2009, it is estimated that somewhere around 3,000 letters have been sent around the world, reaching as far as Indonesia, Nepal, Kenya, India, England, Colombia, Mexico, Canada, and all over the U.S. After receiving many, many gracious replies to the letters, Skype calls were added so students could ask questions and learn more about how that hero is making the world a better place.

When discussing Warriors on Wheels, the students observed Ned as being kind, compassionate, loving, hardworking, dedicated, persistent, friendly, caring, selfless, determined, encouraging, and inspirational; students also articulated examples and reasons that Ned embodies all of these characteristics every day in his gym. The students were also curious to know more about how Ned first started Warriors on Wheels, how he created the gym space and some of the equipment used by his exercise friends, what it meant to be chosen and honored by CNN, and what he's been able to accomplish since the recognition by CNN. "My hope is that students take their inspiration from these special experiences and continue to think about how they can use their skills, knowledge, and passion to help others as they get older," Brian said.

Photo Slideshow

Blind Ball Toss: One student will wear a blindfold while helper student throws a ball to them. Challenge will be how to assist the blindfolded student, minimize frustration, and encourage them. Added challenge could be to increase distance. Strategies might be to try short distance throwing, or rolling, and to listen.

Sit Goal: Students will be sitting apart on floor dots. Without moving from their dot, they must pass a ball from person to person, making sure all students have been passed to before trying to shoot into a hoop. Challenge will be for students to keep control of the ball without moving from their dot, and to be cooperative and inclusive. Added challenge could be for students to pass faster, or without talking to each other. A strategy might be to plan with other students to make sure everyone is included.

Lying Down Rope Pull: Helper student will stand, holding one end of a rope, and the other student will lie down on a mat, holding the other end of the rope. The student on the ground will have to pull themselves towards the sitting student using only their hands. Challenge will be for the student on the ground to find upper body strength to pull themselves to the helper. Added challenge might be to pull with only one arm. A strategy might be to have standing helper student assist by pulling the rope.

Scooter Push: Half of the students will sit on scooters and will not have the use of their hands. The other students will wear a blindfold and will have to work with seated students to navigate an obstacle course. Challenge will be how to verbally explain directions. Added challenge could be to not bump into any cones or other students. Strategies might be to listen carefully or go more slowly.

Three-Legged Obstacle Course: All students will participate by having one of their legs tied to another students’ leg. They will have to move in this position through an obstacle course. Challenge will be how to work together. Added challenge could be to add difficulty by moving backward, or not talking while moving. Strategies might be to listen carefully or go more slowly.

Pass the Ball: All students will sit in a circle and have to pass a ball all the way around a circle without using their hands. Challenge will be not losing control of the ball, and figuring out what to do if that happens. Added challenge could be to pass faster and make it around the circle without losing control of the ball at all. Strategies might be to listen carefully or go more slowly.

Cup Stacking: Students will have socks on their hands to prevent them from using their thumbs. Helpers will have to figure out how to assist their classmate in picking up and stacking the cups. Challenge will be how to use other methods of picking the cups up. Added challenge is height and stability of the cup stack. Strategies might be work together or go more slowly.

Helping Hands: Students should start out sitting on the floor.  They then will be presented with different challenges.
Challenge 1 – Stand up using only 1 hand.
Challenge 2 – Stand up using no hands.
Challenge 3 – Sit back to back with a partner.  Use each other to stand up.  No hands may touch the ground.
Challenge 4 – In a group of 3, complete Challenge 3.
Challenge 5 – In a group of 4, complete Challenge 3.
Challenge 6 – In a group of 5, complete Challenge 3.  

Quiet on the Set!

CNN was looking for different story ideas for this year’s 10th Annual CCN Heroes anniversary special.  As it turns out, the student letters have meant a lot to the heroes receiving them. So much so that several of the heroes shared their experiences with a CNN production team about the letters from Seven Bridges and the follow-up Skype conversations as a source of inspiration, enthusiasm, and encouragement from the students. The idea was pitched to have CNN come to Seven Bridges to meet the teacher and kids who have become so close with so many heroes around the world. They wanted to document how Brian O'Connor's classes learn about the CNN heroes in the classroom, write the letters and prepare questions for the Skype sessions.

On December 112016, a segment featuring students from Seven Bridges Middle School was televised as part of the CNN special, "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute."