The Parent-Teacher-Child Connection: Put the YOU back in YOUTH

Monday, May 30, 2011

Put the YOU back in YOUTH

Teachers, look closely at your students.  Some of them are bright, strong, and active.  Others need a little more encouragement to participate and achieve high grades.  The former group most likely includes youthful volunteers, children who give their time and talents to those in need.  Statistically, students who volunteer in the community have higher grades and fewer absences than those who do not.   Seventy percent of teens who volunteer reported that volunteering gave them a new perspective on community issues.  As a result of their volunteer efforts, teens reported high grades in school and new career goals. Their communities found renewed interest in the environment, senior citizens, needy children, and orphaned animals. 

What does this tell us?  That we need to focus on helping kids to help others so that they can help themselves.  Why?  Because volunteering does not involve competition or grade achievement.  A notable side effect of charitable work is that the students gain one more positive section of information on a college transcript or job application.  Quite simply, volunteering forces students to look outside of their egocentric box and toward the greater needs of others.           

Recently, I spoke with a man who teaches special education in a closed classroom for emotionally disturbed middle school students.  Mr. Smith (not his real name because I met him at a party and we spoke only briefly) had a particularly difficult young man who never did homework, reacted with disdain at most of his requests, and generally disliked school.  Mr. Smith found that the young man, whom I’ll call Will, did enjoy reading.  Perhaps it became his escape from his family problems.  So, the teacher arranged for Will to read to fifth graders.  Together they chose Dear Mr. Henshaw as the read-aloud story.  Will went into the classroom, began to read, and the students were spellbound.  Later, Mr. Smith asked Will to develop ten questions for each chapter that he could ask when he was done reading.  Will, who would never do his own homework, came in the next day with ten well-developed questions.  This new work ethic carried over to his other school work, and Will began to pull up his grades.  He also became less of a discipline problem as a result of his volunteer reading for the fifth graders.             

So, how can teachers get students to become junior philanthropists?  Build on their natural talents, just as Mr. Smith did.  Kids love to socialize.  Encourage them to see that they can volunteer at a nursing home and socialize with people who get visitors only once a week, sometimes less.  Help them to understand that not everything needs to be done for money.  They could volunteer to babysit for an overworked mother of four who needs to take a break.  Help them to know that they can volunteer for other than human causes.  Some kids can join an environmental campaign to clean up a nearby stream, while others might volunteer at the local animal shelter.  There are no limits to the kinds of volunteer activities that young people can do.            Try to develop a philanthropy that also builds on your curriculum.  Since I taught child development, it was an easy match for my students to support Care Bags 4 Kids, a foundation that provides necessary items for needy children.  But what about the other disciplines?  Here are some ideas to consider:
  • Write letters to soldiers - English and social studies classes can participate. (Note: use only the student’s first name and assign a student number for a return letter to the school.)
  • Design and build bat houses or martin houses to combat the mosquito population – Shop and math coordination.
  • Anti-smoking and substance abuse campaign for middle school students – Health and biology classes.
  • Translation services for ESL students and foreign citizens in the community – Foreign language classes.

Each class is unique.  What can you do within your class that will serve the school or greater community while helping the students understand the value of charitable giving?           
The benefits of helping kids to help others are boundless.  The young people learn that caring for others is just as important as caring about their own needs.  The people they help benefit from their efforts, plus the children learn the value of money when they budget fund raisers.  Isn’t it time we put the YOU back into YOUTH?
For more ideas, read Helping Kids Help

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