The Importance of Community Engagement & Giving Back
Dec 18, 2015
There are few lessons more edifying than the act of giving back. As an educational institution based in Nashua, New Hampshire, we contribute to and are closely involved with several non-profit organizations in the local community to do just that. Beyond simply stating that we encourage community involvement in our school’s mission statement, we inscribe service-based learning into our curriculum as a prerequisite for graduation to help organizations such as The Humane Society of Nashua, The Front Door Agency, and Harbor Homes.
Specifically, our Grade Seven and Grade Eight students are required to do 20 hours per year of community-based service and projects. This not only promotes cooperation and teamwork, but also delivers valuable critical thinking skills to help our students solve complex problems in the local community. The results are resoundingly impactful for our students, because they see, first hand, the results of their acts of compassion and empathy.
So why do we mandate community involvement and engagement? Because we have found that these lessons not only promote selfless acts but self-discovery, self-reflection, and self-worth. And more than that, they nurture and enhance the development of the ‘whole’ child. This focus lies beyond the traditional academic standard of most schools, but is one that continues to be a pillar of our progressive curriculum.
Defining Service-Based Learning
The lynchpin of service-based learning is community engagement. In the words of the National Service Learning Organization, service-based learning is “a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.” Simply put, service-based projects help to shape the minds of children and young adults for the good of both themselves and the entire community.
The learning, personal, and social outcomes of these experiences also provide innumerable benefits to each individual student. This includes the opportunity to apply what students have learning in “real world” situations, supporting interpersonal development and communication skills while working with others, breaking down stereotypes to promote inter-cultural understandings, and a greater sense of confidence and self-worth by the simple act of helping others.
These lessons benefit both the children that give back and that receive this help. For students that are able to donate and give back, they see how fortunate they are to be able to help those less fortunate than them. For the recipients of these acts of goodwill, they see other children their own age giving back. This creates a feeling of inclusion and helps transcend the boundaries often formed between children born into different socio-economic backgrounds.
Community Involvement at World Academy Over The Holidays
Perhaps more than any other time during the year, the holiday season presents a variety of opportunities to empower our students to give back. This year, we partnered with a pair of local non-profits through our annual Giving Tree initiative. The Front Door Agency – a Nashua-based group that provides transitional housing and assistance to local families in crisis – and The Humane Society of Nashua were both recipients of a this two week effort.
The Giving Tree – located in our main entrance – was decorated with a collection of ornaments marked with holiday gifts for the children of families supported by Front Door or with specific items needed by the Humane Society. Students were encouraged to remove an ornament or two from the tree – ornaments were marked with items needed by both organizations – to purchase those items, and then place them under the tree after checking them in the school’s registry.
Leading up to Thanksgiving, there was another service-project completed by a group of World Academy kindergartners. This group collected paper goods and plastic utensils needed for Thanksgiving Dinner at Harbor Homes – a local non-profit that provides low-income, homeless, and disabled New Hampshire community members with a variety of supportive services.
In both cases, students were asked to reflect on what they felt or learned after completing these projects. The responses were beyond what one would expect from children at such a young age. They felt good about doing good for the benefit of those that were less fortunate than them. And just as important, they openly expressed gratitude for what they had after seeing what so many other children – and animals – are forced to live without.
Here at World Academy, our goal is to help point the moral compass of each student in the direction of empathy, compassion, and expressing gratitude. Not because they are forced to, but because these are lessons that will shape the person they become throughout the remainder of their lives. Community involvement has and will continue to be a seminal aspect of our curriculum, and our students continue to remain at the forefront of these magnanimous initiatives.