The kids in Sierra Leone smile. These smiles are due in part to the kids in Magnolia, who also smile. When one group smiles, the other group smiles right back.
Why all the smiles?
The fifth-grade class at Lawton Elementary School (4000 27th Ave. W.) raised more than $3,000 for Schools for Salone, which helps kids in Sierra Leone. Their teacher, Peter Hubbard, who devotes part of his curriculum to the concept of giving back, led the effort.
“In a democratic society where citizens vote for their leaders, I thought it would be educational for students to make a positive contribution to society by directly participating in some sort of project to promote the common good,” he said.
In a few weeks, the class will have a general assembly where students will present the money to Cindy Nofziger, the executive director of Schools for Salone.
The money was raised through after-school tetragami classes. The classes were designed so that older student taught the younger students. Tuition for the younger students was $60 (the older students volunteered their time). With 55 younger students participating in the six classes, the classes raised more than $3,000.
But Hubbard’s service-learning initiatives do not stop there.
Students in his class pick an issue or organization that speaks to them and partner with that organization to help. That help includes volunteering and fund-raising.
About four students make up each group; there are approximately 20 groups total. Parents are highly involved in the process. Much of the work is done outside of class time, either after school or on the weekends.
Some of the groups have nearly completed their projects at this time, while some are still getting organized and will be completed later in the year.
The students do not get graded on their projects, but their effort is taken into account in their civics grade.
Taking the initiative
Monica Wooton, a volunteer with Hubbard’s class, worked with students to explore organizations, create causes, write up proposals, design projects, made connections in the community and prepare PowerPoint presentations to share their work.
Through the projects, students learn how to work in teams, research and publicize their causes with valid information, in addition to raising funds.
“The process was invigorating and, at times, chaotic as ideas came fast and furious,” Wooton saod. “Fifth-graders do not have limits to their imaginations and abilities. [Working with them] was refreshing. It was also a good learning and teaching process in getting them to apply creative ideas in proven ways to make a difference in our world.”
The groups helped animal shelters, the Red Cross, the Cancer Care Alliance, the Juvenile Diabetes Association, Discovery Park, the Port of Seattle, endangered species, food drives, homeless shelters and other causes.
“A goal for them was to find something interesting and then take the initiative to find out how to pursue it,” Hubbard said. “We want them to be self-directed.”
But will service learning become part of the core curriculum at Lawton?
“We’re debating on making this part of the curriculum. Right now, it’s part of the individual teachers’ [choosing] to weave into their curriculum,” said Lawton principal Neil Gerrans.
However, service learning seems to be just the ticket, Gerrans said: “We’re a high-scoring school and feel that this will benefit kids — to give them this sense of service.”
However, it’s difficult for some teachers to incorporate service learning into their curriculum, Gerrans noted, particularly for those teachers whose kids are struggling in reading and math.
Moreover, service learning is easier for teachers of older students, largely because of the fund-raising component.
“But we always look at, how do we challenge and engage our students? We are studying other schools with innovative models that get students the skills to work together and stay motivated and interested and challenged. That’s something we’re wanting to do more of,” he said.
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