AURORA -- Leighton School fifth-graders Eva Logan and Haley Kulawiak would like to see everyone who wants to attend the Princess Prom be able to do so, even if they can't afford dresses.

"A lot of girls can't afford a dress or shoes for the Princess Prom," said Eva. "I think it will make them feel special that they can try on dresses to wear to the prom."

Kulawiak explained the dress collection drive began as a class project.

"It started in media class, where we had to pick something we wanted to do," she said. "It was like a Shark Tank project where we had to present our idea to everyone."

That classroom project has expanded to a communitywide drive to make dresses available through donations for as many girls who may need financial help to get to the dance, said Tami Mazzella, guidance counselor at Craddock and Miller schools.

The dance is March 11, and the last day to donate dresses is Feb. 16. They can be brought to Craddock, and youth sizes 5 to 16 are needed.

Logan said it was challenging setting dates for events during the project.

"It was kind of hard getting the dates and organizing everything so we wouldn't leave anything out or come into any conflicts," she said. "We haven't had any problems yet."

Kulawiak agreed getting all the "small details" right has been the biggest challenge. "I'm guessing my favorite part will be when we see all the girls in their dresses," she said.

Mazzella said any girl who would like to try on dresses can do so Feb. 27 between 3:30 and 5:30 p.m. in her office at Craddock, where the dresses are being stored.

Cynthia Curry, guidance counselor at Leighton School, said she's worked with media specialist Jen Kinkoph, who teaches the class where the project was developed.

"When they first said what they wanted to do, it was global, and they were able to narrow it down," she said.

Kinkoph said students filled out an 80-item questionnaire that determines what their strengths and interests are. After the students determine those, they must present and complete a related project. The strength assessment was done through

"They get to do whatever they want," said Kinkoph. "We watched a lot of inspirational videos of kids acting on their passions."

For their projects, which usually include research of some type via a book or telephone, students focus on their passions, said Kinkoph.

"One of the questions is 'What could you do if you wanted to change the world?'" she said. "They really need to involve their strengths and passions. A lot of them don't get to do that."

She said many children are so programmed in this generation that they don't get a chance to openly explore their passions during free time.

"I have one little girl who's really interested in gender equality, and she's working to establish a gender equality club," said Kinkoph.

Other students are working to get books donated to the Cleveland Clinic so children who are patients can take them home with them when they leave the hospital, said Kinkoph.

Kinkoph said her curriculum is more open-ended than those of other teachers, so she can undertake projects that force students to combine skills from different subject areas. She said she's learned over time that students enjoy learning skills in the context of projects they care about.

"I used to do very structured lessons," she said. For example, she might take a look at two websites, comparing and contrasting a reliable source with one that's less reliable. "The kids have to be interested in the topic themselves. They have to have bought into it."


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