“Reading “A Christmas Carol” led us to talk about the themes of compassion, forgiveness and making choices to impact the lives of others,” Wright said. “Alongside their reading, they were asked to put together their passion projects as a piece of community service.”
Wright said students responded well to the atypical assignment. Some immediately had ideas of what they wanted to do, while others needed more time to research, brainstorm and decide on a project. Students were allowed to choose their own project, within provided guidelines.
“It's been an interesting road we've traveled on with this assignment. Students have been made to step outside of the box a little and think in terms of real world application and not just traditional school work that comes to mind when so many people think of education,” Wright said. “There was no overarching guideline or parameters provided; they just needed to set themselves a timeline, plan out the appropriate steps to complete their project and execute.”
Wright said some students thought the assignment sounded easy at first, but they soon discovered it might require more effort than they originally anticipated.
“I knew what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to set it up,” said Meg Golden, who wanted to spend time in an elementary classroom. She recruited two other students, Breigh Banta and Madison Wilson who wanted to make a craft, to visit a kindergarten classroom at Campbellsburg Elementary School. “It was cool and fun and kind of scary at first,” Meg said of her experience. The three girls read a Christmas-themed story to the children and helped them create a reindeer handprint craft.
“The big picture planning process is something they aren't used to doing and this project really helped them learn how to plan something out and see it through - including making changes along the way as needed,” Wright said.
For one group, their project took a dramatic and incredibly positive turn that required them to deviate from their original plan. Lee Sweeney and Emily Herbert worked in a group of five to “adopt” and provide Christmas gifts for children in need in the community. Originally, the group wanted to adopt two children.
“We wanted to help with Christmas presents, so we talked to Mrs. Wright about it and she told us about the Youth Services Center program that’s kind of like the Angel Tree program, so we talked to Mrs. Wilson about it and she said that would be great,” Emily said. “We wanted to help two children but we ended up adopting a family of five.”
The increase in their sponsorship was made possible by very successful fundraising. They had hoped to raise about $200 to provide the gifts, but finished with just over $600. The group then went shopping for the family of four boys and one girl, ranging in age from 10 to 18.
For Lee, the assignment went deeper than earning a grade.
“One way it impacted me was I was talking to my mom the day we went shopping, and we were riding home and she asked me how it went. I said, ‘Good, we got to do a family of five instead of just two,’ and she was really excited about that,” Lee said. “We just started talking about how fortunate we are and how we don’t realize how many people around us need help, and it just made us feel really good that we got to help them and make their Christmas just as good as everybody else’s.”
Wright anticipated her students would be more interested in the story and in their projects when they discovered how relevant and applicable both were in their own lives and communities.
“They've definitely learned there's a whole community in their backyard to be thankful for and appreciative of, and that a little thank you, appreciation and love goes a long way not just at Christmas, but any time,” Wright said.
And while the family Lee and Emily’s group adopted will enjoy some new clothes and sporting goods, another group worked to provide basic needs to families in Henry County.
Dominic Escobar, Justin Crawford and Colby Crabb spent time at the Henry County Help Center, preparing food boxes for the food pantry’s weekly distribution. As a boy scout, Justin had volunteered at the Help Center before and suggested his group complete their service project there.
Colby was surprised to learn of the number of families in Henry County that needed help with food.
“It let me know how good I have it,” Colby said.
“Yeah, some people don’t ever have enough to eat, and some people won’t get anything for Christmas,” Justin added.
Understanding the needs of their own community through these service projects and how her students, while just in the seventh grade, could positively impact those needs was a positive result for Wright.
“While we've been reading “A Christmas Carol” we've had some real discussions around some of the themes of the play, but the discussions around kindness and generosity have been some of my favorite,” Wright said.
In total, 74 projects were completed just before winter break, ranging from making wreaths for a local nursing home, collecting donations for the animal shelter, collecting coats and gloves for local elementary schools, raising donations for the Ronald McDonald House, hosting a basketball camp for younger kids, helping to remodel a family member’s home, and more.
“Several students are asking when we're doing another one and what we're working on after Christmas break,” Wright said. “If they're that excited, then I know this wasn't just an assignment to them but a mission with a purpose, and THAT is what true learning is all about.”