Akhil, who is 8 years old, wants to be a “heart doctor” when he grows up and he wants to live in a mansion, he wrote in his “Milestone” booklet. His favorite food is pizza.
Matthew, who is also 8 years old, wrote in his “Milestone” booklet that he wants to be a firefighter when he grows up and he wants to live in Lawrenceville. He loves bacon.
The boys may have different aspirations, but what they have in common is that their favorite color is blue, and their favorite summertime activity is swimming in the pool.
And that is both the premise and the promise of the Milestone Project – that there is more that unites us than divides us.
The year-long Milestone Project, which was funded by the Lawrence Township Education Foundation and Church & Dwight Co., asked each of the 1,250 students in the four K-3 elementary schools to write and illustrate their own “Milestone” booklet.
Kindergarten students wrote about their first day of school, their favorite book and their first “best friend.” Older children wrote about their favorite food, their favorite color, their favorite animal and where they would like to live when they grow up.
At the end of the booklet, the child signed the “Milestone Pledge” – to notice their own similarities to others before noticing their differences; to say only kind things about others; to use respectful words when working out problems with other people; and to encourage others to do the same.
The idea for the books grew out of an awareness of a movement called “The Milestone Project” that celebrates the experiences that are shared by children all over the world, said Karen Faiman, the executive director of the Lawrence Township Education Foundation.
“The children had an opportunity to talk about different milestones that are passed in everyone’s life – losing a first tooth, making a friend, doing chores and going to school for the first time,” Faiman said.
Jeanne Muzi, the principal of the Slackwood Elementary School, agreed that the Milestone Project booklet is, by nature, a reflective book. It is an autobiographical book.
“It is about meaningful things that happened to you. When the children read each other’s ‘Milestone’ booklet, they say, ‘That’s just like me.’ It’s nice that you are like me and I am like you,” Muzi said.
“The premise is that we may be really, really different, but we all share similar experiences. If you are 7 years old, you have probably lost a tooth – no matter who you are or where you live. It is the sameness that brings us together, not our differences that tears us apart,” Muzi said.
This is not the first time that children in the Lawrence Township Public Schools have taken part in the Milestone Project. Children at the Ben Franklin Elementary School made “Milestone” booklets in 2006, said Muzi, who was then a first-grade teacher at the school.
“It was just an amazing project, but time marches on,” Muzi said.
“The Milestone Project is one of those projects that when you think back on it, it’s just a really good project. It’s one of those things that you want to come back and revisit,” Muzi said.