Create a culture of service project with students age 5-9
Teaching students about giving back has a place in the classroom, especially when it has roots in learning. Youth Service America has created amazing guides for teachers on how to carry out these projects, one version of which you can learn about here.
For their Semester of Service, Rachael Brunson’s third graders set a goal to reduce childhood hunger in their community. Students first researched the issue, then gave presentations, organized an economics fair to raise awareness and funds, advocated for statewide school breakfasts, and raised nearly $8,000 for their local food bank. As the students’ semester came to an end, they rallied at the Texas State Capitol, and were in attendance when the legislature passed the breakfast bill.
Adaptable to most classroom settings and subject areas, all Semester of Service projects include these key elements that are known to promote student engagement:
Duration and intensity: At least 12 to 14 weeks of continuous service and learning experiences.
Link to curriculum: Activities are clearly aligned with Common Core or other academic state standards in one or more content areas
Meaningful service: Students address a community need that is meaningful and relevant to the community, to the students themselves, and to the teacher.
How you can do it
Get school administration support. Youth Service America suggests sharing research that shows a Semester of Service has a positive impact on student engagement and achievement. Also, think about what specific goals are important to your school and to administrators, and how this project might meet some of those aims. In addition to the research, share success stories from other educators and invite the administration to be partners in your efforts. Outline the ways you’ll keep them involved as the semester rolls on: share updates from students, perhaps, or how you plan to do media outreach. And be positive. Passion is contagious!
Identify a cause you and your students care about. Rachael planned some initial activities to get the students started, then used their feedback to decide where to go next. Ultimately they decided to focus on childhood hunger, and she and her students discussed what they knew and what their misconceptions were.
Research and reflect. Rachael’s class studied the issue of hunger for weeks, linking their research to specific academic areas, like social studies. They studied hunger in their area and statewide, as well as its root causes, misconceptions, and systemic solutions. Then the students talked about what they were learning.
Develop a plan of action. With her students, Rachael planned knowledge-sharing videos, presentations, and art projects, as well as advocacy activities to get the word out. Towards the end of the school year, students held a rally on the steps of the State Capitol, and advocated for a law that would make free breakfasts more accessible to students.
Keep momentum strong. Throughout the school year, students kept momentum by sharing their project with the community and eventually getting the media involved. Seeing their work online and in the news made students realize that they were making a difference. Always focused on student engagement, Rachael’s instructional team saw how much the students bought into the project, and they were sold on its value as a teaching and learning tool.
Measure your success. Rachael used rubrics to grade content work like persuasive letters or videos.
This project fueled students’ passion for learning, encouraged them to take ownership of their learning, and engaged them in higher-level thinking. The students gained significant knowledge about the issue of childhood hunger, and educated their peers and their community.
At the same time, they “moved the needle” on childhood hunger in their community through fundraising ($8,000 for the Capital Area Food Bank) and systematic awareness-raising and advocacy activities (writing persuasive letters to legislators). The impact of their work meant that fewer kids in Texas will go hungry.
Rachael says, “Don’t try to plan it all in advance.” Instead, really listen to your students. Give them ownership of the project and see what happens, while still facilitating their process and providing guidance where needed. And don’t forget to reflect, every step of the way.