As an educator, I have no greater sense of satisfaction than seeing the “stars align” through a student-led, authentic, collaborative and compassionate service project that sprang from a conversation between a grandson and his grandmother about the challenges and complexities of our world poverty, friendship, and the need to serve humanity. Pair that with encouraging teachers who appreciated this student’s interest and were willing to support him through lunch, recess and after school work sessions. The end result was that this authentic project, a Lower School bake sale, earned $873 to be donated to The Smile Train organization.
Fifth grader Andrew Renz and his grandmother were having a conversation about poverty in our world – which led to a conversation about the main character, August Pullman, in the Fifth Grade Literature book, Wonder, by R.J. Palacios. August was born with extreme facial deformities. Because of constant surgeries, he was homeschooled for much of his life, but thereafter was fortunate enough to attend a school much like Wakefield. Accepting him was difficult for some of his classmates. As you might imagine, August’s story has stimulated multiple important conversations in our fifth grade about empathy, kindness and inclusion.
Andrew quickly made a text-to-world connection between children in less developed countries – born with cleft palate and unable to pay for surgery due to their impoverished background. At that moment, he decided to put aside his upcoming Christmas money to donate to the Smile Train organization, an organization that sends trained doctors to different countries to perform this relatively simple surgery – for free.
That was not enough for Andrew, however. He wanted to do more. In Andrew’s words, “Sometimes, the little things we can do to show one another kindness and support are the most important. To help a young child, the same age as the kids right here in our Lower School, have a pretty smile instead of living a whole lifetime with a crooked, incomplete smile is a kindness I would like to share.”
With the support of his teachers, Mrs. Bates and Mrs. Williams, off he went to talk with his classmates to organize a two-day bake sale that was held over six lunch periods. He divided and conquered – forming an advertising committee to make posters and announcements at our assemblies, a set-up and sales committee, a baking committee, and a committee to count the profits and announce the result – $873.25 for Smile Train!
Andrew and the fifth grade know the true meaning of the holiday season – a time of togetherness, empathy, joy and service to others. These are the values that we all, families and teachers in partnership, work to instill in our children. We do this by providing students with opportunities to collaborate, problem-solve and serve the greater community – there is no greater gift than active, meaningful learning.