So often, we hear only negative comments about kids and teenagers in our society: they’re addicted to video games and smart phones; they don’t respect adults; they’re selfish. Many educators in the Region refuse to view children that way, however. These educators see the potential for selflessness and generosity in our youth and strive to help them develop that potential as early as they can.
Even as early as kindergarten.
Donna Battista, kindergarten teacher at Parkview Elementary School in Valparaiso, has been teaching her students the values of philanthropy and giving back since 1997. Every year, her class participates in a service learning project called WAGS (Wanting a Good Shelter), where her students raise money for local animal shelters, providing food, medication and toys for otherwise outcast animals.
Because Battista’s students are so young (“It is developmentally difficult for young children to think past their own family,” she said), she has developed creative ways to tailor the service experience to their skill level.
Projects include collecting donations from other students, giving dog and cat toys in lieu of a classroom gift exchange at Christmas, visiting and singing to the animals in the shelter, and in addition to WAGS, organizing a school supply collection in the spring.
For Battista, training her students to serve is just as valuable as math and reading. It’s the why behind the what, she said.
“I wanted to help young children understand why learning is important. I explain that we learn skills not only to help ourselves but to help others who cannot help themselves.”
This is a primary purpose as well for the National Honor Society (NHS), which honors junior high and high school students who demonstrate a commitment to both academics and service.
NHS students are required to do 40 hours of community service prior to graduation, and those at Crown Point High School are asked to do an additional 20 hours plus their choice of two mandatory projects, which include the Fourth of July Parade, Angel Tree, Salvation Army bell ringing, or two fundraisers benefiting the St. Jude House in Crown Point.
The above list may seem demanding for a busy high school student, but “student responses have always been positive,” said Amanda Campos, NHS sponsor at Crown Point High School. “I have a lot of students who like to serve on the committees to organize the events.”
It is the hope of both Battista and Campos that the students’ volunteering experience will become more than just projects required for school but rather a way of life.
Indeed, many of their former students have taken an interest in service beyond the aforementioned projects. Campos has written recommendations for students looking to volunteer after graduation. Battista said many of her students continue to volunteer at the animal shelters, or they ask for donations to the shelters instead of birthday gifts.
“My goal is to build solid citizens who seek out ways to volunteer and aid their community, and give meaningful purpose to their learning,” Battista said. “It is a wonderful thing to create future citizens who will positively contribute to their community.”