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Bring Your "Bear" To Work Day

Located on the outskirts of Columbia, South Carolina, staff members at Ballentine Elementary School in Irmo noted that many of their students' parents worked 30 minutes or more away. Often, parents were not able to stop in to eat lunch with their children or drop by to visit a classroom; but the staff still sought ways to bring those parents into its "network."

So two years ago, Ballentine staff created a program, "BES Goes To Work," in which parents volunteer to take a mini BES bear to work for a day. They sign up for the activity during open house and then await a phone call. The parent receives a bag with a special insignia that contains a folder of information with a questionnaire, a bear, a disposable camera, and a blue shirt that also has the unique insignia.

Mini "BES" is a bear who goes to work with the parents of Ballentine Elementary students, and his adventures are put on display at the school. (Photo provided by Susan Weaver)

"BES [the bear] goes to work with the parent, and the child wears the shirt to school," Susan Weaver, Ballentine's guidance counselor, explains. "The parent takes pictures of BES at work, and the counselor takes pictures of the child with BES in the main entrance of the school. When the bag returns and the pictures are developed, a collage is created from the photos and information sheets. The collage is displayed for all to see."

One parent, a college professor, wrote about his students and their responses to BES, the bear. In another of his adventures, the bear traveled to a local television station and rested on the anchor's desk during the news. BES has ridden in the front seat of a fire truck, sat at the wheel of a policeman's cruiser, and toured the state treasurer's office! "BES Goes To Work" is an initiative that reaches out not just to students' families but to the larger community, and it isn't the school's only such effort.

"The community service projects at Ballentine are numerous," says Weaver. "We have learned the best way to teach character education is to immerse children in it. That is what we do at Ballentine!"

Steered by guidance counselors, the student council and guidance committee lead ongoing service projects at the elementary school. This year's planned events include a celebration of Grandparents' Day at a retirement community, a "Make a Difference Day" event at the school, a "Fill a Truck with Cans" collection for the Harvest Hope Food Bank, and joining in the Change Bandits program for a children's hospital.

"When we visited the Lowman Home, our students read to the residents there and they entertained with Reader's Theater, song, and dance," Weaver told Education World. "We took forget-me-not flowers we had grown from seed in classrooms. The children took them down the halls and distributed them to our friends in the rooms. The children did not want to leave."

Weaver reports that the participation of her students in all of the community service projects continually impresses upon her the power of giving. They seem to gain pride and peace from the experience of doing for others.

"Go with what your community has to offer that's already in place," she advises other schools. "For example, the Lowman Home is a nursing facility that is near our school. No one has to search the Internet for a charity!"

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