COMMENTARY | Going Beyond Oneself - Teaching children about community and giving

publication date: Nov 25, 2021
author/source: Kelly D'Brox

As a mother, elementary school teacher, and colleague I try to instill a sense of altruism and optimism in myself and those around me. I was raised in a small town by truly benevolent parents who passed on the value of empathy and the importance of caring for one’s community. Prior to the pandemic I found it easy to find practical opportunities for my Grade 5 and 6 students to connect to their community but when the pandemic hit it was harder to create a sense of connection amid constant changes, limitations and challenges. While I witnessed many examples of community members coming together to help others during the pandemic, I also witnessed a sense of disconnection among my students and struggled to help them manage the sense of loss they felt by being isolated from their peers, teachers, and their community at large.

Finding myself in a unique situation of teaching the same group of students for three consecutive years -amid ever-shifting expectations and restrictions - I knew it was time to find a practical way to engage my students and inspire a sense of gratitude, while helping the community around our school. In that spirit, I introduced the idea of taking on the Hygiene Kit Project with the United Way East Ontario.

My students were quick to respond and eagerly began planning and organizing to meet our goal of putting together 35 hygiene kits to help homeless youth in our area. I expected them to express interest and be helpful under my guidance, but what I did not expect was how quickly and confidently they began taking ownership for the project, asking questions, advocating for more items, and seeking to understand the cause which they were working to support. Nor did I expect the introspection that occurred; students asking questions such as “Why do I waste items someone does not even have access to,” or “I had no idea how much my parents pay for these items, I am lucky.” There was no arguing amongst the students, but rather a sense of increasing accomplishment and pride in themselves, their peers, their families, and their school community.

In the end, my students put together 83 kits, reaching the required goal for our local community, and contributing to the additional needs of another community close to us. The project brought a common purpose and an excitement into our learning community that I am certain my students will carry with them for many years. They cannot wait to take on another project. I am proud of their efforts and am so glad that they learned, in a very concrete way, how a small beginning can turn into something beyond your expectations when you work together for a common good.

The entire experience exceeded my expectations and reminded me of the value of teaching the next generation the importance of volunteerism and the value of teamwork.

Kelly D'Brox is a teacher at Naismith Memorial Public School in Almonte, Ontario. Having spent 10 years working in the Social Services Sector prior to pursuing a teaching career, Kelly is well-aware of the need for community support and involvement in issues such as youth facing homelessness.

Photo courtesy of Upper Canada District School Board.

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