first time in my 19 years of teaching, I am teaching all English classes- no electives. One addition to my schedule is Advanced English 8. Each day is a challenge because the curriculum is completely new, so I find myself rushing to stay a few steps ahead of my students. I am also extremely fortunate because my brilliant colleague has gifted me endless files of lessons, tests and projects that she has perfected over the past ten years. However, like most teachers. I feel compelled to tweak the material to fit my teaching style and philosophy.
One project I was dreading was the Community Service Project. Each year our department requires 8th grade students to donate six hours of service to the community and then report back to the class on what they did and what they learned. It isn't that I don't value community service, but as a parent, I know how busy my students and families are and I was worried that I would be bombarded by complaints about lack of time. But my colleague assured me this is a great project that the kids really love to do, so I dove in but kept my expectations low.
The project consists of several parts. First, students are given a list of ways they can donate their service. The community aspect is very broad and students can donate time to a neighbor or to an organized group. Students are given about a week to think about the project and write a proposal about what they want to do and why. I think this is an essential part of the project's success because it makes the students think about why they are choosing the project and they have to make time for the service. The original project was slated for about three weeks, but because I knew many students were busy with winter sports I extended the project giving them about 5 weeks to complete the six hours. I suspected most students would choose something easy and I was surprised to see the number of students who selected a cause or organization they had never volunteered for before.
Feed my Starving Children, there were also presentations which showed students' individual passions or interests. One student collected money to create care packages for AnySoldier.com, a few avid readers volunteered at the library, two animal lovers volunteered for a rescue shelter and the vet clinic, several athletes donated time to youth tournaments or to coach and two brothers made and served a meal at the Ronald McDonald House. Listening to the presentations allowed the class to see the multiple ways that they can serve and it is my hope that they have now been inspired to continue this service into the future.
Much has been written about the need for authentic learning experiences in a 21st century curriculum, after experiencing the facets of this Community Service project I would go one step further and advocate that service be integrated into our curriculum as well. Students need to see their role in the community and how their time and talent can make an impact. At the end of the project, one parent wrote to thank me for requiring this project stating that they often intend to volunteer, but rarely make the time to do it. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts we can give to our students and to our community is to make help them make time for service by making it a staple in our lessons and our curriculum.