My first year teaching, I taught at an inner city school in a community that faced many challenges. There was one issue in particular that affected our students every day on their way to school. Our poor block was lined with garbage and old items that people had abandoned, and children had to walk through it as they came to school each morning. This gave my class the idea to propose an “Improve the Community” challenge.
Identify the problem & raise awareness
There’s something about giving the students the power to identify a problem and brainstorm solutions. It not only becomes an academic assignment, but a social, emotional, and problem-solving task. It gives children skills to think flexibly and allows them a sense of autonomy. When I gave this assignment my first year teaching, my students created posters to hang around school to raise awareness.
The next step would be to have students work together to brainstorm possible solutions. This is where I take the opportunity to teach the pros and cons of various potential solutions and explain that doing this is an important part of the decision making and problem solving process. Fast forward a few years to when I was teaching a new group of third graders in a different community. These kiddos identified homelessness as an issue in our community, and decided that one way to help the homeless would be to create “Survival Kits” – bags full of basic necessities one would need if living on the streets of our town. The students then had to come up with a plan on how they would make these Survival Kits. They eventually decided to do chores around the house, bring in their allowance, and have me go out and buy these items from our local dollar store. Once I brought all the items back to our class, the students worked in groups to assemble them.
Collaborate and make a difference
I feel that adding in a collaboration piece is really important when getting children involved in their communities. Each time I’ve done this project, I’ve had my students reach out to our local councilman or the mayor, letting them know what the issue is and how they aim to make it better. We’ve even invited the mayor to join us in our efforts.
After our Survival Kits were all assembled and a date was settled upon for meeting up with the mayor, my class set out to deliver the kits by hand to our local temporary aid center. We made a small impact on 25 homeless individuals, and a big impact on my students’ hearts that day!