Teaching my Students to Make the World a Better Place

By Sonya Barnes June 6, 2019

2018-19 Legacy Team at Jewett School of the Arts

Ever since I was a little kid, I have always had a desire to help everyone and everything, and I certainly tried–rescuing animals, donating clothes, toys and supplies, raising money for those in need, just to name a few.  I loved being in the military and really felt like I was making a difference in the world, so was sad when that came to an end (yay, asthma!).  When I became a teacher, I had a desire to lead my students in humanitarian efforts.  So many of the kids I knew had struggled at some point and wanted to do things to help others but didn’t have the means or knowledge to do so.  When I taught Leadership for a couple of years, we did a service project to gather Thanksgiving dinner items and put together a giveaway basket for families that came to our open house event.  It was a big hit for families, the kids loved doing something and the families loved receiving it. 

After that, I had a desire to do something bigger, but figuring out what and getting approval wasn’t easy. I thought back to my own teen years and my experience with World Vision’s 30 Hour Famine and how much that impacted me.  I began to draw ideas from their website since I had continued to make donations over the years, and I put a plan together. The next step still took me a few years—finding a principal that would let me move forward.  My current principal shared my vision of helping our kids help others, teaching how to put an event together and guide them through planning, evaluating, executing, as well as all of the financial responsibilities and paperwork that it entailed.

So, let me break it down step by step of how I was able to take this from idea to completion.

Step 1: Putting a Team Together. I simply shared the vision with my students and asked them to tell me if they were interested and why.  From those applications, I created a team. The first meeting with the team was to tell them the roles needed and have them decide who would fill them.  We had a Project Lead that was our spokesperson and decision maker, a Public Relations Officer to oversee making posters and getting word out to the students and stakeholders, and a Financial Manager to help count money and track paperwork and progress to the goal.  The first year I had only 6 kids, but the second year I had 17!  I think somewhere in the middle will be a happy medium for the next one, though.

Step 2: Choose a Charity & Cause. Since I Had worked with World Vision in the past, I was comfortable and familiar with their practices and allocation of resources, so I guided the kids to them, but allowed them to explore the internet for other options.  They opted to stick with World Vision since that was one I knew, then scoured through all of the causes.  The kids stumbled across packing party options, and finally the Promise Packs because they felt that it would mean more to kids their age if it was something they could touch and do, not just donate money to.

Step 3: Set a Goal. With a cause in mind, next they decided how much they wanted to raise.  The minimum for a packing party was 50 backpacks for $600 so this became their goal.  They wanted to motivate kids at all ages, so decided to try and make a class competition for fundraising, thinking some kind of party would be a great reward, but were stumped on what to do that wouldn’t cost money since we wanted 100% of what we raised to be donated.

Step 4: Getting Approval. Now it was time to talk to the Principal.  The team went and presented their ideas and thought processes for their cause and goal, as well as the reward.  The principal agreed and offered to cover popcorn and a movie for the winning class.

Step 5: Spreading the word. Next, the kids made posters and a school news segment to get the word out.  They even went personally to a few classes to answer questions and share the video from World Vision’s website and their own excitement.

Step 6: Raising money. This was the time-consuming part.  There was the routine task of delivering money boxes, collecting boxes, counting money, filling out forms, totaling amounts raised—and repeat.  This took some time, but they stayed the course and hit their goal.

Step 7: Placing the order. The website was very user-friendly in setting up the party and we had direct contact with someone at the company that walked us through each step and stayed in constant communication.  In fact, when we did our second annual party, I reached out to her early in the year to let her know our intentions and new goals, and we talked regularly about progress and steps.  This personalized contact was a huge help and another reason I was glad to be working with this company.

The class by class schedule and jobs for the day

Step 8: Recruiting volunteers and prepping for the day. The first year, we had a parent, me, and the team, and it was a bit hectic with the media present and trying to watch everything.  For the second year, I reached out to the kids and their parents, as well as last year’s students that would need high school volunteer hours, to set up a big team.  With 5 parents, 17 kids and 2 high school volunteers helping me, I then created a class by class schedule based on when everyone could come. I then broke everything down into jobs so that everyone knew what needed done and where to be.

Having everything prepped and set up in waves was a huge time saver and made it a very smooth process

Step 9: The Packing Party. When everything arrived, we had a checklist and inventoried all items to make sure we had everything. The company had a great packet that showed how to lay out the items, how to welcome everyone and create the environment, as well as packing the bags and preparing them for shipment.  We had a minor hiccup of a couple of missed items, requiring us to go back through every single backpack to find where it was missing, a lesson we definitely learned from for the next year. Since we increased from 50 packs to 300 packs the second year, and we were doing them throughout the day, I broke it into waves to prep.  We broke down how many bags needed done each class period, then set up large bins with that many of each item in it.  This allowed us to quickly set up for the next class as the last one finished.  With everyone having a job, it went very smoothly, and everyone had fun.  We still had a few items that got missed here and there, but we managed to get it done with time to spare.

Step 10: Shipment and clean up. Because they sent us boxes and we had planned in advance, the boxes were packed for shipment as the backpacks were finished for each class period.  This saved us a great deal of time, allowing us to use the end of our day to move everything to the loading area and stack and wrap the pallet for pick up.  Because we staged everything, there was very little clean up at the end, and we had cleaned things up as we went all day, as well.  I also followed up by writing a personal thank you card to each parent volunteer and a letter of recommendation for each of my team members to have as they went on to high school and completing volunteer hours paperwork for my high school volunteers.

The kids thought it would be fun to wrap me up as we were cleaning up.

I won’t lie, several times this year, I questioned my sanity at trying to fit this in.  I’m a language arts teacher and mom and my home life has flipped upside down and sideways over the course of the school year.  Logic said it was too much. I was working harder than the kids.  Meeting times were cutting into my personal lunch since that was our only time to get everyone together—and a million other little voices trying to stop me. But the kids were still motivated.  I was still motivated.  Could we make this goal?  This huge goal that we were going to have to accomplish right after the testing window closed, the school’s annual performance ended and only a few days before school wrapped up for the year.  Perseverance won.  Which means 300 children we will never meet get a chance at a better life. And, when you think about the impact that they will be able to go on and have in someone else’s life—that quantifies in a way that makes my heart race just to think about.  THAT is the part I keep stressing to the students.  That they are changing the world by changing someone’s life.

That little girl inside of me is smiling so big and doing such a happy dance.  And I can’t wait for the day that these kids—either the ones in my classroom or the ones that received the Promise Packs—get to tell the story of a time when they changed the world and pass on that fire.

During our first year, the media and school board leaders came out, lured by our desire to help Syrian refugees and the kids were so excited—even kids that hadn’t been on the team kept asking for ways to jump in and help, wishing they had been a part of it from the beginning.  It was an exciting day and the excitement continued for weeks as we were featured in the local paper (click here for that story), the local news station (click here for that story) and World Vision’s newsletter (click here for that story) since we weren’t their typical organization to work with.  The second year didn’t get as much publicity due to it being so close to the end of the year, but we did have a school board member join us to pack a bag and talk to the kids.  It was such a busy day, though, I don’t think they noticed, and they talked for the rest of the school year about how it impacted them.  I can only hope it stays with them for the rest of their lives and they go on to share that with others.

To learn more about Promise Packs from World Vision, click here to see other ways to help or watch the video about them.  You can also check out my YouTube channel and see this in video form with footage from the big day.

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