At the suggestion of the seventh grade social studies teachers at Northfield Middle School, teenagers did what adults 10, 20 or even 30 years older sometimes never do and reflected on moments, big and small, that have changed the course of their lives.

“To understand the importance of history and current events, we need to understand the importance of events in our own lives,” said Earl Weinmann, a seventh grade social studies teacher. “It doesn’t have to be earth-shaking. Sometimes defining moments are very small.”

When she was first assigned the project, a few different moments quickly popped into Elsa Hoff’s mind. But ultimately she settled on an interaction that lasted no more than a few seconds, igniting a long journey to discover her inner confidence.

“In elementary school, a kid said that I didn’t look very good in my glasses and then I didn’t wear glasses for a whole year,” said Hoff.

Hoff chose to battle headaches rather than face the criticism of her peers, but as she matured, she realized that maybe looks aren’t everything.

“I learned that people like me for who I am and not what I look like,” said Hoff. “I have more confidence now. I asked my friends and they said they can tell a big difference.”

Through his own defining moment Joe Gatzlaff didn’t learn to be confident, but patient with himself and others.

“My defining moment was the first time I saw my baby sister,” said Gatzlaff, whose sister was adopted when he was 8 years old. “It changed the course of my life. It was the first time I had to share my parents, and my mom says it helps me to be frustrated with someone but then move on. It helped me find things in common with my friends, too.”

While Gatzlaff can’t necessarily measure how much of an impact having a younger sister has had on his life, Trey Coudret has proof that he has changed.

“I didn’t really like reading before fourth grade,” said Coudret. “But then Mrs. Johnson showed me a book series that helped me enjoy reading again.”

Coudret was skeptical of the series at first and only read a few pages of the first book before putting it down again. But not wanting to disappoint his teacher, he tried again and has now read every book in the 15-book series and is scoring higher and higher on reading tests.

“Now I am able to read books above the average reading level,” said Coudret.

After completing essays describing these life-changing events, the students had the option of getting up in front of the class and sharing their experiences with others, giving their classmates a glimpse at a deeper side of who they really are.

“One thing not taught in many schools is self-reflection and introspection,” said Weinmann. “The ability to look at your interests, personality, hobbies and how these things have shaped who you are. Only by looking at where you came from can you hope to guide your future.”

Reach reporter Erin O’Neill in Faribault at 333-3132 or in Northfield at 645-1115, or follow her on @ReporterONeill.

Reach reporter Erin O'Neill in Faribault at 333-3132 or in Northfield at 645-1115, or follow her on @ReporterONeill.