by Diana Cook
It happens around the same time every year ... the culmination of giving from the heart at Maroun Elementary School.
Although the cards and goodies of Valentine’s Day might overshadow a greater sense of purpose in some places, at Maroun, it’s all about a focus on responsibility to each other and community with a special service drive leading up to the 100th day of school.
This year, that “100th Day” was scheduled to arrive on Monday, Feb. 13 ... an event which, several years back, was partnered with a project designed to integrate not only with the month’s character attribute of ‘responsibility’ but also with different elements of the first-grade curriculum. It challenged each classroom to collect 100 items for donation to the Phoenix Area Food Pantry by the time the “100th Day” arrived ... a goal announced in January and then cultivated by student activity in a variety of ways.
First-grade teacher, Brenda Bailey, says the teachers begin planning this coordinated project at the beginning of the year, sending home a letter which encourages families to contribute to this giving project. In school they talk about the difference between ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ ... how some people really struggle to get what they need.
Their hope is that kids internalize the importance of what they are being asked to do, and become actively involved in making it happen, including continuing discussions at home about ways they can contribute to the cause.
Parents, says Bailey, are encouraged “to have kids do chores to earn money to purchase items and to engage them in selecting the items they will contribute,” says Bailey.
Children are often eager to get involved by doing chores for their family, and feel a sense of investment and empowerment through their contribution of time, effort and sacrafice.
Some might earn money by giving up special treats such as ice-cream or candy, and then use the money normally spent on those items to purchase food for their collection drive.
Shopping for items together can “also be a very valuable lesson,” the letter sent home states, as kids consider what they have and what they can afford.
Selecting items together is also a chance for kids to look at labels and comparison shop the cost of items they might wish to bring in.
The goal, parents and students are reminded, is how this activity can prove to be very rewarding for all involved.
Then as the new year arrives, and especially through January and into the final push towards the “100th Day”, non-perishable food and personal items start rolling in. By Feb. 13, “it’s amazing to see what they’ve done,” says Bailey. Most classes come close to or exceed their 100 goal and even if they don’t, “the effort put forth along with the mound of donation items in each room is truly inspiring,” she says.
Kids really do take suggestions to heart, Bailey points out. She’s had a couple of parents share their experience. One parent told her that her child had earned all their own money for the donation. “Another girl cut out coupons, so they could get the most for their $5. She and her two brothers brought in three bags,” Bailey says.
Donated items also set the stage for teachers to get working on a whole set of activities planned for the 100th day in the classroom. ... incorporating some of those food items into curriculum-based multi-day lesson plans for the centennial day.
Classroom teachers use a variety of things at their disposal for activities, including those associated with geometry - as well as science and health. For example, different things available can be sorted - into sizes, separated into cylinders (cans) and rectangles and prisms or even into types of foods like vegetables, fruits, meats, and pasta or rice.
Through some of these activities are opportunities to reinforce the idea of venn diagrams, for example. Teachers show kids how they could take sets of items, putting them into one circle or another and reserving a spot for items that might fall in more than one category. For example, there might be a circle space for meats/fish, one for vegetables, but then an overlapping spot for items that might include both, such as soup.
Other activities include such things as counting items by ones, twos, and eventually 10s. On the 100th day, in addition to hats and decorations that highlighted the number 100 in Bailey’s class and others, the kids engaged in even more learning games, like sorting Froot Loops ... first into sets of 10 and then using them to make a 100 cereal-piece necklace.
Students are proud of their accomplishments, both with the “100th Day” learning activities - which may not seem like a typical day of learning at all - as well as the results of their coordinated effort to help the community. Taking that responsibility, they’ve learned, can make a difference - in their personal sense of service along with the feeling of success that comes when reaching out and caring for others.