Spotswood Elementary gets involved in the community

Lucie Rutherford, Editor-in-Chief

Countless service learning projects go on at Spotswood Elementary School (SES) every year amongst a variety of teachers in order to give students a new perspective as to what they can do to help out their community. These projects have been going on at SES for many years, though according to instructional coach Kaitie Saunders, kindergarten teacher Lauren Caffrey is who really brought the program front and center through their leadership team.

“[She shared] a lot of integrated learning and how to make things relevant to kids, and that it’s relevant to them if they’re actually producing something to do for others,” Saunders said. “So at least in my world, a lot of the sparks kind of started with the projects she did, and then it kind of spilled over and more and more people thought, ‘This is an amazing idea’, and it’s kind of grown from there into different ideas and different leaders have taken on things.”

Over the past years, as well as this year, Caffrey has led many service learning projects.

“Historically, we’ve done a plant sale fundraiser for earthquake victims in Nepal, we’ve donated food for firefighters fighting a local fire in the national forest and we’ve gotten treat and toy donations for the animals at the SPCA,” Caffrey said. “Both historically and presently, we’ve put together ‘Warm Winter Kits’, each with a warm hat, pair of warm gloves and a small toy for children at local shelters. We’ve provided Thanksgiving food for local families in need and we’ve constructed tactile Braille books as a gift for a community member with sensory needs.”

For Caffrey, these projects are a way to show students exactly how much they can do for the place they live and how easy and affordable it can be.

“Service learning… allows us to support our community in a way that fosters the notion that service can be represented in a variety of ways… Our projects help us to understand we can give ourselves in a variety of ways; that it doesn’t always involve money,” Caffrey said.

There are currently 12 classroom teachers who have done service learning projects this year at SES. Some classes do them individually, while some grades do it as an entire class.

“First grade… went to Avante, the nursing home, and read stories with the elderly and did Valentine crafts with them and just visited them on Valentine’s Day,” Saunders said. “They’re going to go back on Saint Patrick’s Day, so that was just a field trip kind of experience where they did some service learning.”

The second and third-graders also did projects as a class where they made and sold snack mix to the school community. Not only were they able to raise money for their chosen organizations, My Community Place and the SPCA, but were able to implement the projects into their curriculum by learning about economics and business.

“They integrated it into a unit in their classroom, so students were learning about economics and money, and adding and subtracting and those types of things,” Saunders said.

In addition to raising money for My Community Place and the SPCA, the second and third grade classes also made snack mix bags as donations to the Mercy House, according to Cierra Drummond, another SES teacher who implements service learning projects into the classroom. The bags were used for welcome home baskets, their tutoring program and to feed the people living at Mercy House.

“The kids really enjoyed having a choice of what to put in there, knowing it was going to go to someone who got to choose what they wanted. They got to think about what somebody else might want to eat. Excited is one of the most used words when trying to describe [the students]. They were showing a lot of caring words, like, ‘I hope they like this’, and ‘I think they’re going to enjoy this’, so [they were] thinking about how [others] were going to feel,” Drummond said.

The projects have become something the students constantly look forward to, even more so than playtime, according to Caffrey.

“We often integrate our service learning projects into our academic day, but they will often choose to forgo some of their playtime at the end of the day to complete additional projects,” Caffrey said.

Drummond, who teaches first grade students, pushes them to understand the value of doing projects to help fellow community members.

“The kids need to see giving, and not just receiving, and caring about others, not just about themselves, and selflessness,” Drummond said.

For Saunders, it is important for her students to realize the impact they can make, no matter their situation outside of school.

“I think, knowing a lot of students in our school are challenged by poverty, that sometimes people, and children in general, can feel like, ‘I’m just six, what can I do’, or ‘My family doesn’t have a lot of money, what can I do?’ So this is a way to empower them,” Saunders said. “That it doesn’t matter how big or small the gesture is, that you can always do something, you can always make the world better in some way, even if it seems like a tiny piece of the puzzle.”