A kindergarten student takes 10 cans of food into the classroom. A second-grader carefully checks a menu and fills a backpack with meals for a hungry child. A fourth-grader hoes an already harvested field, collecting leftover sweet potatoes.
These are small but significant actions. As we try to teach children about the joy of service, it can require more than one activity or lesson. The goal is cultivate empathy that lasts a lifetime.
Importance of empathy
Head of School Bud Lichtenstein feels deeply about this issue, addressing it frequently in his blog and with his actions.
“I believe that all children are born with the capacity to be empathetic and kind. … I also believe that it is our duty as adults to cultivate in our children sensitivity toward others and an understanding that in comparison to most children across the world, our children are extraordinarily blessed.”
Each service activity, from preschool to fifth-grade, builds toward the goal of revealing the joys of service. At our school, part of the goal is to teach children how to serve, how to be connected to community so they are not adrift later. This empathy, this connection to others, this ability to serve, is as valuable as the other things they are taught.
Some grade-level activities at TRS are traditions, and others vary from year to year.
projects in each grade
- School Day 4s class collect change for the Food Bank of Eastern and Central North Carolina, connecting to the idea in a meaningful way for their age.
- First-, second- and third-graders fulfill a monthly commitment to the Backpack Buddies program of the Interfaith Food Shuttle, which provides food for the weekend to children who won’t have access to school lunches and breakfasts.
- Third-graders research and write a brochure about a local service organization and then present to the class.
- Third-grade has recently begun "Planting a Row for the Hungry" in conjunction with their study of plants.
- Fourth grade execute the "Souper Bowl," which is a complex project that encompasses art, fundraising, food, budgeting, and learning more about Urban Ministries in downtown Raleigh.
- Fifth grade students research, present and vote on a community service project that they then work on throughout the year.
- Art students create paintings throughout the year for Art for Hospice.
MLK Day of Service
In January 2014, the school organized our first Day of Service activity on Martin Luther King Day, following the annual MLK parade downtown. The day has become more than a day off but rather a day of building on Dr. King’s legacy, trying to answer his challenge: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
Alumni, parents, staff, and students join in a meal-packaging event for Rise Against Hunger (formerly Stop Hunger Now) each year, raising money in advance and packing more than 10,000 meals in just under two hours.
At The Raleigh School, our children learn to read and write and perform science experiments. They’ll carry these academic skills through their lives. But we want them to learn so much more – about empathy, about service, about the world beyond their bubble. And they do. They learn by doing and giving, over and over again, building and expanding on the concept of service and giving.