When I began my middle school Leadership program in 2002, I did not have a community service or volunteerism component. I thought to myself that my students–the majority of whom are underprivileged–ought be the recipient of volunteerism and not vice versa. I was wrong.
Now in it’s ninth year, my program requires that my students perform a minimum of twenty volunteer/community service hours per school year. Students must document their service. They cannot participate in many of our “exciting” trips (e.g. to Washington, D.C.) without completing their hours. What changed my mind?
Back in 2002, my leadership class implement three holiday drives. October was clothing. November was food. December was toys. Prior to my spearheading these programs, the school had only done a food drive. At the end of each drive, we’d take the items to local homeless shelters.
Being that I involve students in every aspect of all our activities, kids came along to transport the items. What I found out was somewhat of a surprise to me. I figured that taking my students spirits would be darkened or hampered, reminding them of their lives at home. Quite the opposite was true.
I have found that the sense of accomplishment achieved through giving helps improve students’ self-confidence and esteem, and drives the kids to want to do more for others. This has translated into (though I cannot quantify this) a drive to achieve better grades in high school, taking AP classes, more volunteerism, a desire to work for government and/or non-profits, and to receive a college education. Needless to say, the holiday drives are now a permanent part of the program.
When asked what they want to do when they grow up, most of the kids in my history classes speak about what I’d expect them to say: veternarian, doctor, teacher. All noble fields. But my leadership students, who run the three holiday drives, tell me their aspirations include running for elected office, opening a homeless shelter, working for non-profits (though they’re unfamiliar with the term so I’m paraphrasing), and more.
Doing good for others makes a person feel better about themselves, and for disadvantaged kids, I can say with deep
certainty that they benefit from it exponentially compared with more advanted peers. Perhaps it is their desire to make change for their families and themselves. Perhaps seeing others who are in more need than they offers some interesting perspective about life. Whatever the case, it’s a win-win situation.
Mr. Franklin is a teacher for the Los Angeles Unified School District. He
is an eleven year veteran and has won District and County Teacher of the Year awards. He was also a recipient of the prestigious Bank of America Community Hero award. Before teaching, he spent five years at Learning Forum, which runs summer camps designed to increase student academic potential. It is a world-wide program.