THS teacher introduces real ‘pay it forward’ project

‘There’s nothing more powerful than your indealsitic energy’


TORRINGTON – More than some of us are perhaps familiar with the concept of paying something back. Oftentimes the right thing seemingly to do when someone goes out of their way to help would be to pay them back in some way, shape, or form.

Decades ago, a Hollywood film was released by the name of, Pay it Forward, starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment. The concept of the film was both original and inspiring. The plot consists of a public school educator who gives out a peculiar assignment to his students. The task is both broad and ambitious.

Each student is required to change the world. As expected by the teacher, only one student takes the assignment seriously enough where a difference is actually made. 

Unknowingly, Torrington High School (THS) English teacher and longtime resident, Andrea Brunsvold, has introduced an assignment much similar to her tenth-grade students.

Although the actual names of the assignments could not be more different, Brunsvold has introduced a challenge to her students which will require them to interact with certain members of the community, build relationships, and hopefully make a difference in someone’s life when all is said and done.

Since starting her position at THS last fall after many years teaching for the St. Joseph’s Children’s Home, Brunsvold feels sincere relationship building, time management and personal responsibility are all traits her students must have to succeed in the long term. With this, Brunsvold feels this particular assignment gives them a fair chance to understand and experience first-hand just that.

“It’s called Project Based Learning and is largely student-driven,” Brunsvold began. “The students are given a project related to the real world, and they need to solve it basically. What I’m essentially trying to do is give them a voice. They have a choice of how to do it, however. What I’m looking at is how having both a voice and choice impacts motivation, engagement, and self-regulation. So, I did research on Project Based Learning and student voice and choice, and there’s been a lot of positive responses. The best results come when you give students a lot of choices as well as opportunities to pick their project, and possibly even assess their own results.”

When giving further details on what the project entails, much like the film her students are required to come up with a concept of where they would like to see any kind of improvement within the community, come up with a plan on how to achieve this and of course then put it into action.

“They are required loosely to do something to benefit the community,” Brunsvold continued. “Whether it’s the school itself or the community at large, it has to be something which matters to them.”

Since introducing the project to her students recently, Brunsvold has already been amazed at how much thought and effort her sophomores have put into the assignment without needing much assistance from their teacher.

“I haven’t given them a whole lot of guidance yet, but they know what’s going on and they understand very well,” Brunsvold said. “Some of them were a little nervous at first to come up with an idea. Once they picked something they cared about, it was like a button was pushed and away they went. This project has already begun and some of them are very far ahead.”

The THS students have already reached out to several local entities including various Veteran organizations, New Hope Counseling, and Torrington’s elementary schools to name just a few.

One particular THS sophomore, Amon Napier, shared his particular motivation for the project with the Telegram, explaining how coming from a dedicated military family strongly influenced the direction he would go with his assignment.

“We are making a support group for Veterans with or even without PTSD,” Napier said. “We want to give them a space to share their ideas, share their stories, be listened to and be heard. My stepdad and real dad are in the military, and seeing my real dad go through PTSD throughout most of my life lit a spark to do this.”

Brunsvold hopes the project will have a profound impact not only on her pupils but on community members of all ages as well.

As residents oftentimes find themselves somewhat disconnected from local teenagers, the THS English teacher is confident the project can remedy this perception somewhat if continuing well into the future.

“The connection between teenagers and the community would be great,” Brunsvold added. “I think it’s introducing them to adulthood, and a certain level of responsibility they already have. They have a voice, and Dr. Porter has been very supportive as well. They can develop relationships, they can demonstrate skills they already have, learn new skills, and possibly make connections which will help them in the future. I think it keeps them realistic, keeps expectations realistic, and ensures they are using their time wisely. Time management is definitely a skill which would help. I think hopefully the community will develop a more positive view of teenagers in our community because they are all great kids. They are all great kids, and we want the community to see that. The community is always invited to reach out either to the high school or myself on this.”

Although particular dates and gatherings for the project have yet to be determined, Brunsvold understands certain challenges are bound to present themselves and are all part of the learning process with growing students.

In this particular case, simple problems and obstacles while trying to help another is a tale as old as time. After all, a person must be willing to embrace help or assistance before it can actually be done.

For Brunsvold, it is another opportunity for her students to only learn more about themselves and the world they live in. 

A holistic old-school approach the educators of yesteryear could be proud of.

“There’s nothing more powerful than young idealistic energy,” Brunsvold explained. “If you put that into a cause you can move mountains, much like the Civil Rights Movement. If it’s giving energy in a positive way to the community, why not? And it matters to them. Some are doing projects which are for improving the school, while some of them have created activities for elementary students. Some of them are planning to teach young kids how to even eat healthier. Others are looking into crime prevention and are working with D.A.R.E. They have all kinds of ideas, and I didn’t generate a single one. They came up with them, I just gave suggestions and guided them a bit. You push a button, and they just go. It’s very much an engaged motivation for them. One of the biggest skills they will learn is when they run into obstacles, how will they overcome them? How will they overcome frustration? Problem-solving is a skill which will help them throughout their whole life. This is a great way to introduce the community to some of our youth.”

If you have further questions or would like more information, feel free to call 307-532-7101, or send an email to