Out-of-classroom projects are an inevitable part of any student’s educational journey.
A less common practice, though, would be to insert the word “service” before project, but one local teacher has found a way to make lending a helping hand part of her lesson plan.
After assigning some reading centered on do-gooders, John Milledge Academy’s Berta Hartzell established “Trojans Serve” in the closing months of the 2020-21 academic year. The educator had her fifth-grade English language arts (ELA) students serve their families, their school and finally their community following the examples set forward in the short stories and novels read. Of course, no ELA assignment is complete without a written response, so the teacher, now heading into her 24th year, had her students write about how they served and why, as well as how it made them feel. It was Hartzell’s way of getting all her students involved in service, not just those belonging to academic societies and clubs.
“I’m a firm believer that service should be a component of what we do at John Milledge,” she said.
The year 2020 was one to forget for many as the COVID-19 pandemic raged and division within our country reached a fever pitch due to violence and a polarizing presidential election. In addition to getting kids involved in giving back, Trojans Serve was also Hartzell’s attempt to balance the scales of humanity following all that negativity to which kids were exposed.
“We live in such an ugly, ugly time right now,” Hartzell said. “I wanted to show the children that kindness matters. I don’t know what I expected, but it went so far beyond what I thought it would.
The students, with the help of their families, made splashes in several ways. The waves created reverberated back to Hartzell’s email inbox and cellphone as parents emotionally shared what it was like to see their kids really own their respective projects. It started at home as older siblings helped their younger siblings with homework so mom could cook supper. Some kids assisted with making meals themselves while others tackled big cleanup projects around their homes.
The next step, which asked the students to serve their school, saw kids pick up trash around the John Milledge campus and clean the walls of the elementary building. One group of girls even got some early experience as librarians after volunteering to shelve books.
Finally, the possibilities got a lot bigger once the children set out to serve their community. Some chose to bake cookies for local first responders. Others sought to help out some furrier friends as they made much-needed donations to the Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF). Bird feeders and seed were also given to a local nursing home so residents could enjoy watching some flying feathery visitors. These were just a few examples of how the 36 fifth-graders chose to serve in the city they call home.
Hartzell saw the inaugural run of Trojans Serve as a resounding success, so she’s bringing it with her up to the JMA middle school this year as she’s been reassigned to teach sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade reading.
“My goal in doing this last spring was to give it a run and see how it would work,” she said. “From this point forward it’s going to be a component of my curriculum for middle-schoolers.”