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Milford School 5th graders share jokes and pep talks on ‘happiness hotline’

Cheryl Van Laeken's fifth grade class at Milford School. The group set up a phone line to share jokes, fun facts and inspirational quotes.
Photo provided

If you were listening to Morning Edition last week, you might have heard about a class of Indiana fifth-graders awaiting your call with a fun fact or inspirational quote.

That’s Cheryl Van Laeken’s fifth-grade class at Milford School in Kosciusko County, who set up the ‘When Life Gives You Lemons — Call a 5th Grader’ phone line.

Every morning, Van Laeken looks for a news story to discuss with her class. On the way to work one day, she heard about a kindergarten class in California that set up a phone line with recorded pep talks and positive affirmations.

“When I shared that with the kids and we called the number, I asked them, ‘What do you guys think, would you want to do this?’” she said. “And they were like, ‘Yeah, we would love to do it!’”

Van Laeken’s father works for New Paris Telephone, so they had a number set up by the end of the day. The hotline officially went live on March 22.

Callers have five options, in English and Spanish — kind sayings and phrases, inspirational quotes, pep talks and advice, jokes, and fun facts to test whether you’re smarter than a fifth grader.

Van Laeken said the class voted on the phone line’s name, as well as all of the categories and the content that gets recorded. She said the students record new messages on a fairly regular basis.

“I just sit back and assign, like, ‘Hey, Table 1, you’re going to take care of jokes this round, Table 2, you’re going to do the inspirational quotes,’” she said. “It really is the kids that are doing the work — I’m just using my cell phone to record.”

In the couple of weeks the line has been active, Van Laeken said it’s received over 3,000 calls from places as far away as Hong Kong, Australia and Switzerland.

In a time when good news can seem scarce, she said she and her class are happy to provide a bright spot.

“I think it’s resonating with people because we’re all looking for something happy and something positive in this world,” Van Laeken said. “And it’s just kids being kids, really, which I think everybody is looking for.”

When life is giving you lemons, you can call the Milford School fifth graders at (574) 832-4965.

Contact Gemma at or follow her on Twitter at @gemma_dicarlo.

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Gemma DiCarlo came to Indiana by way of Athens, Georgia. She graduated from the University of Georgia in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and certificates in New Media and Sustainability. She has radio experience from her time as associate producer of Athens News Matters, the flagship public affairs program at WUGA-FM.