During the holidays, many children focus on the boxes and bags being bestowed upon them. In Fletcher, however, third grader Marianna Merritt was thinking less about herself last month and more about some four-legged friends.
For the second year in a row, Merritt has initiated a collection of toys, food and supplies for the St. Albans Human Society. She created boxes and collected donations at school and home and delivered the items with her mother and grandmother over break.
“I think it is good to treat animals like people and treat them fairly. I like animals and I want to keep them cared for and happy,” she said.
The idea was her own brainchild and has been highly successful for two years running.
“I think of animals a lot and I wanted to take care of animals that don’t have homes and give them help. I brought all of the toys and food to the humane society over Christmas vacation. I felt happy that the animals could get treated well,” Merritt said.
An important lesson is being learned, according to Merritt.
“I don’t have to think about what I want. I can think about others. It’s important to help the animals because they don’t have homes and they don’t get treated as well. I learned that treating animal well is a good way to help.”
Sixth grader Sirena Sawyer also sees the benefits of community service. She volunteers at the Johnson Community Meal every other Wednesday evening.
“We have community members that like to socialize and some that cannot afford a meal,” Sawyer said.
She either washes dishes or serves the food, but prefers the latter.
“I feel like it brings me closer to the community and it gives me a chance to connect with another generation, Sawyer, who also volunteers at the Jeffersonville Library, said. At the library, Sawyer helps set up and promote a monthly poetry night.
As if that were not enough, Sawyer also volunteers to teach gymnastics to young children every Saturday.
“Teaching helps me become a better role model,” she said. “It’s important for me to be part of the older generation but also to be part of the younger generation and help them.”
Sixth grader Kiersten Cardinal, who volunteers at the St. Albans Humane Society and the Binghamville Church supper, also sees and values the learning gained from volunteering in her community.
“It is important to be part of your community because helping people is important,” Cardinal said. “It’s not only a good feeling but I get a lot of new skills outside of school that I can use inside of school and all over. It’s like my classroom away from my classroom.”
Sixth Grader Emma Sweet, who also volunteers to cook, serve food and clean up at the church supper, has similar reasons for wanting to be involved.
“I want to help my community,” she said. “It feels good to help other people. I learn how to be a good citizen and to be nice to my community and be a good person.”
“I just enjoy helping my neighbors,” sixth grader Matthew Spiller said, reminding us that volunteering and community service need not always be formal. “I help my neighbors out by cleaning or stack wood or taking care of their pets.”
“I learned that I really like helping people and I want to help more people and make more of a difference. I learned that about myself,” Spiller said.
Their teacher agrees that the experience gained through volunteer work becomes valuable across settings.
“When students volunteer and help out in their community they demonstrate and practice leadership skills. They build relationships. These and other skills become reciprocal between school, the classroom, home, the community and world. It puts everything in a meaningful and powerful context,” sixth grade teacher Jasmine Tremblay said. “It just makes sense from both an academic and social learning perspective.”
According to a 2014 brief by the Nation Corporation for Community Service, the rate of volunteerism by young adults ages 12 to 18 is nearly double that of adults, with 55 percent of young adults participating in some type of community service. Youth are said to contribute more than 1.3 billion hours of community service annually.
Research is also beginning to show a link between early service learning and volunteer opportunities for students and a reduction in school dropout rates.
The Corporation for National and Community Service reports that those who volunteer are 27 percent more likely to secure employment than those who do not.
“I learn a lot but it’s also just fun,” Spiller said. “It’s just a good time and good feeling.”
Target 3 – Flexible Learning Environments. FWSU will maximize learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the school classroom and fostering creativity, innovation and differentiated learning opportunities for all.
Action Steps – (1) Make relevant and authentic problems become the focus of connected learning. (2) Provide students with access to content, resources and methods for learning beyond the school day and beyond the school walls.
Indicators of Success – (1) The school calendar and definition of school day changes to become flexible and responsive to the needs of students. (2) Students are engaged in answering authentic questions and solving problems in collaborative settings.