How do you teach compassion? A project launched by teachers and students at Presentation of Mary Academy in Hudson, NH is designed to do just that. Classroom learning is tied closely to the students' participation in a project carried on with the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter. Included: Details of how service learning can be tied to learning across the curriculum
In a season of celebration and plenty, there are still those who want for food, shelter, or the basic necessities of life. Around this time each year -- the Thanksgiving and holiday time -- the Nashua (New Hampshire) Soup Kitchen and Shelter is inundated with donations. But after the holidays, giving tends to drop off.
That's when the students of Presentation of Mary Academy in nearby Hudson go to work.
"We know we can count on academy students for donations of food, personal hygiene, paper, baby products, and so on after the holidays, when the need becomes great," said Melanie Cewin-Kenion of the Nashua Soup Kitchen (NSK). "The students give us a huge food donation. It's really important to us."
The NSK, which serves Nashua and surrounding towns, each week provides 1,000 people with cooked meals or bags of food. And they do it all on a meager agency budget of $350 a week! (Eighty percent of the funds are spent on vegetables, dairy products, and meat.) A local supermarket makes generous donations to the soup kitchen to supplement the budget. And the students of the academy, a K-8 Catholic school, will soon be starting their fourth year of collecting goods for the NSK.
Goods are collected from the entire student body, but seventh graders run the NSK program, called the Service Learning Project. The cross-curricular project combines community service and computer literacy with reading, writing, social studies, economics, and religion.
"The basic objective of the project is to empower each student with the knowledge that he or she can make a difference," Marilyn Gibson, a reading and language arts teacher in the middle school of the academy, told Education World. "Through the curriculum lessons, each student uses problem-solving skills as well as writing, ... interviewing, collecting data, calculating percentages, [doing] both linear and circular graphing, and, most of all, developing compassion" for other human beings.
Each week during the project -- from January through May -- seventh graders from the academy collect food and other goods donated by the entire student body and their families. Each Friday, an NSK volunteer picks up the weekly donation.
"This year, students will be volunteering time each week to help stock the pantry shelves," added Gibson. That will give students more of a hands-on experience.
The total number of donations from the school ranges from 200 to 600 items a week. During the project, more than 3,000 items are collected by Presentation of Mary Academy students.
Students start their service-learning project by researching the topic of hunger. To do that, they use a handful of Web sites, including Feeding America home page and Oxfam America. The students also read articles from periodicals and newspapers, then write reflective pieces based on their research.
Cheryl Lewis, a computer technology teacher at the academy, outlined what students learn about computer technology in the course of the project. Among the skills students master are
Students also review Internet safety issues, and they learn word processing skills so they can write and edit articles on a computer.
The NSK service-learning project culminates in students' publishing articles about the NSK and the academy's program in the (Nashua) Telegraph, their local newspaper. Published in a section titled "News for Kids," the students' articles carry the headline "The Good of Giving." Accompanying photographs show students stocking the car of the NSK kitchen manager, Doug Aldrich, with cans collected at the school and students recording the inventory of cans they had recently gathered during a school day.
Clearly, the project helps the community, but it also has an obvious impact on the students who participate.
"In February, my seventh-grade class and I visited the Nashua Soup Kitchen," wrote Jessica Hines in a Telegraph article published May 18, 1999. "It gave me a feeling of apprehensive joy and comfort. It was comforting to know that if I was ever in the situation, when my family didn't have enough money for food, I would be taken care of. At the same time, though, I was afraid to feel too happy or to feel that comfort. What about the souls who actually didn't have enough money? What would they think if I acted happy? What would the people who worked there think?"
Another student, Julia McLean, wrote, "When I was able to see firsthand how many people need my help and that there are people where I live who have no home and nothing to eat, I was motivated to help. It occurred to me that we live in America, the land of plenty, and yet people still go without. I am so blessed that I am able to eat until I am satisfied every day. The thought of not having food made me able to give up just a little of what I had to feed others. After, I was left with the feeling that I made a difference in somebody's life."
Article by Sharon Cromwell
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