Many schools have their elementary students learn about community outreach.  Can drives for food pantries, collecting old coats for kids, and even sock collections for veterans are all done in the vein of teaching youngsters to help others.  These are all very worthy and wonderful causes that are great practices for children to participate in.  My feeling is that serving for these causes has a much greater impact when the children actually work for the effort.  At Riverbend, hands-on learning is woven in the fabric of our entire curriculum and community service opportunities are no exception.  When students actually go to work at a food pantry, a soup kitchen or make sandwiches for people at a homeless shelter, there is a light in their eye, a visible energy of motivation and a strong desire to dig in and make a difference.  

Recently, our Upper Elementary students did a drive for an organization called, Cradles to Crayons.  This non-profit has a warehouse in Brighton, MA where they take everything from diapers to toys and clothing for children in need.  The 4th – 6th grade students did not only gather items from the whole Riverbend School community, they actually went into the warehouse and volunteered their time to sort through and organize items.  Their participation was enthusiastic and heartwarming.  The students worked through the requested tasks set forth by the Cradles to Crayons Supervisor and they didn’t stop there.  They asked for more; three straight hours of bagging toys and sorting clothing by size!  One student was heard saying to his mom when she came to pick him up, “Mom, I want to work here.  I want to open a warehouse like this to help children too.”   This is the kind of impact that can only happen when children have practical life experiences with service.

In our Middle School program, 7th and 8th grade students work every week at a non-profit Community Organic Farm within walking distance of the school.  They volunteer their time to feed and water the animals, clean out stalls, grow and harvest crops and tend to the tools needed to run the farm.  They are getting real life experience with chemistry, ecology and food production all while offering their help to support the local community.  The commitment and dedication to this service is evident with the students’ wholehearted participation.   I have yet to see this excitement when this age group learns about this kind of work in a book or on the internet. It is truly remarkable to witness these youngsters participate in real-world practices with vigor when they are at the farm.

As a society that does so many wonderful things to support good causes, it is important to recognize the significance of teaching the next generation about community service.  It is even more important to give children genuine hands-on learning for them to get it into their DNA.  As Ben Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget.  Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

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