Monday, February 1, 2010

School Service Projects
Teach Many Lessons

Whenever I see a news story about kids who are using their energy to do good in their community or for others far away, I always stop to read it. Among the stories I’ve in recent days are these three about projects that are teaching kids the curriculum as they instruct valuable lessons in giving back to their communities and others in need.

A budget crunch in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, has forced the community's public library to cut back its hours of operation. The library is closed on Fridays now, and Saturday hours have been cut back too. News of the cutbacks sent fifth graders in two of the community’s elementary schools into action. Students in Nina Strelec’s art classes designed note cards to sell for the benefit of the library’s children’s department. The students designed cards, carved their designs into linoleum blocks, and printed them. The cards were packaged eight to a bundle and sold for $5. More than 1,000 sets were pre-ordered, and the card packs are also available for sale in the library, where the children’s designs are on display. “I wanted students to understand that they can use their talent as artists to help others,” Strelec told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (read the news story). The project helped students understand the business of art from the creative side to production, assembly, and distribution, she added.

When Massachusetts teacher Andrea Boyko was looking for a unique way to help her third graders in Springfield learn the value of the number 1,000, she came up with the idea of collecting 1,000 quarters to help children half a world away. Boyko has spent many of her school vacations working at schools in Ghana, West Africa. Her experiences there led her to found an organization, Future Leaders of Ghana, which helps children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic. The $250 her students raised as part of their math lesson is being used to provide school lunches for kids in those Ghanaian schools. Those students typically don’t get any lunch at all while they are in school, Boyko told the Springfield Republican (read the story). The project turned out to be a real eye-opener for Boyko’s students. They learned that they can barely budge a pile of 1,000 quarters. In addition, their connection to students in Ghana has taught them that, even though many consider themselves to be “poor,” they have much for which they can be grateful.

In Falls Church, Virginia, middle school students in Owlin Burke’s family and consumer sciences classes help to create quilts that provide a sense of safety for children in foster care. The project begins in the school’s geometry classes, where students design quilt patterns. Then students in Burke’s classes choose a design with which they want to work. Many of the students who make quilt squares as part of the class also volunteer their time after school to help assemble the quilts. Besides learning sewing skills, the students are also learning about responsibility for others. “The project gives them an opportunity to give back to the community,” Burke told the Washington Post (read the story).

In school after school, projects such as these involve students in learning as they think about and help others in the community -- or the wider world -- who can benefit from a little time and love.

It’d be great if you could take a moment to share a story from your school or community about students who carried out a project to benefit others as it gave themselves an opportunity to learn and grow. Thank you for adding your comments at the bottom of this blog entry.


Youth Service America
This organization offers ideas and other resources, including grants, for engaging youth ages 5 to 25 years in service to their communities. Their free newsletters are a valuable resource for educators. Click the globe art to the right to learn more about YSA’s Global Youth Service Day, which takes place each April.

Community Service
This Education World archive shares sample projects from teachers who believe that involving students in service projects is an effective strategy for engaging interest in the curriculum and in their communities.

Service-Learning and Community Service in K-12 Public Schools
The National Student Service-Learning and Community Service Survey was designed to measure the extent to which service-learning and community service occur in K-12 public schools. Click the link above to learn the results of that survey.

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