Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Community Service Learning - All Year Long!

School-Wide and Individual Class Community Service Learning!

In addition to ongoing school-wide projects, each class at The Willows participates in a year-long community service project. Teachers partner with parent volunteers from the Community Service Committee to identify appropriate and meaningful projects for the students. “We try to be very thoughtful about the projects that we choose,” explains Lower School Director Terri Baird. “We want the community service to be developmentally appropriate, so children can feel like they’re helping out and having an impact.”

In many cases, classes seek projects connected directly to their curricular learning. Fourth graders, for example, learn about California’s native species and endangered animals – so it makes perfect sense for them to fundraise for Wildworks, a local organization caring for injured or homeless animals.

“It’s great when the projects themselves are fun, rewarding, and meaningful,” says Terri. “But really, our biggest goal of all is to foster a lifelong commitment to service. If we can get our kids in the habit of helping others now, we’re halfway there.”
Take a closer look at some of the grade-level service projects that Willows students have participated in over the years:

DK: Cleaning out the Closets! Clothing Drives for Operation USA
DK students collaborate with Operation USA, an aid organization that provides assistance to grassroots organizations around the world. DK students have visited Operation USA’s office just down the street on Hayden Avenue and continue to conduct clothing drives on their behalf.

Kindergarten: Baked Goods become Backpacks for St. Joseph’s
Kindergarteners partner with St. Joseph’s Center, which provides aid and resources to needy families in the Los Angeles area. Each year, the children hold a fundraiser, selling items ranging from smoothies to baked goods, using the money they earn to buy backpacks and blankets for the center.

First Grade: Spreading the Love of Reading - from your library to theirs!
Over the years, Willows first graders have collected thousands of books from Willows families for donation to charities that redistribute them to needy readers. This year, students collected gently used books for BookEnds, an organization that recycles children’s books through student-run book drives and places them in schools and youth organizations in need of books.

Second Grade: Saving the Oceans
Second graders traditionally seek service projects that tie into their thematic study of the oceans. Last year, students raised money to support Meals for Seals, an organization that is a part of the Pacific Marine Life Foundation and focuses on rehabilitating injured seals on the Southern California coast.

Third Grade: Trailblazing for PATH
Third graders are the standard-bearers for the PATH lunch program, a Willows service tradition. Every Wednesday morning, students collect the lunches Willows students are donating to PATH; these lunches are delivered later in the day to the PATH facility and distributed to PATH residents, who use them when going out for job interviews.

Fourth Grade: Working for Wildlife
In conjunction with their study of California’s native plants and wildlife, fourth graders support Wildworks, a local organization that cares for injured or homeless animals. Each year, students welcome a Wildworks representative who explains the organization’s mission and brings animals for the children to meet.

Fifth Grade: Each Penny Counts!
In previous years, the fifth grade has partnered with Pennies for Peace, a nonprofit organization that creates educational opportunities for children in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Students placed containers throughout the school so classmates can bring in their own pennies to donate.
Middle Schoolers: Buddying Up at the West Side Children’s Center

For many years, The Willows’ sixth graders have volunteered their time at the Westside Children’s Center, a full-service care center for vulnerable preschool-aged children. Sixth graders visit the center once a month to work and play with the children. In recent years, middle schoolers have increased their commitment to the center with other student groups, such as the Middle School Choir and the drama elective, visiting regularly for special performances and presentations.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

1999 - The Willows Reaches Out!

It’s Tuesday night. Across Los Angeles, Willows students are packing not one, but two lunches for the next day. First a sandwich! Then an apple! Maybe a cookie for dessert! The next morning, both lunches make their way to The Willows. One lunch stays in the backpack for lunchtime; the extra goes in a bin just outside the classroom door.

This Tuesday night “extra lunch” routine is a tradition for many Willows students. They’re packing the extra lunches for PATH (People Assisting the Homeless), a non-profit organization that The Willows has partnered with since 1996. The lunches are delivered every Wednesday to the PATH facility in West Los Angeles, and PATH employees distribute them to individuals living at the facility, who are going out on job interviews and gradually working their way out of homelessness.

“Community service and service learning have always been integral parts of The Willows experience,” explains Head of School Lisa Rosenstein. “In The Willows’ early days, we wanted to find an ongoing project that offered kids a regular opportunity to do something tangible to help others. Every child can make a lunch – and we’ve found it to be a great way for kids to learn that there are many different ways to reach out.”

Every Thanksgiving, The Willows community also comes together at their annual Community Day to help PATH. Students bring in donations of travel-size personal care items – soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste – and the children gather with their book buddies in every classroom to assemble toiletry bags that are delivered to the PATH residents.

“There’s a great vibe in the building on the morning of our Community Day,” notes Lower School Director Terri Baird. “The kids love getting together with their book buddies, and as they decorate and assemble the toiletry bags, they can see the results of their hard work. It’s also a great reminder to the kids to be grateful for all the day-to-day routines that they may take for granted, like being able to take a shower or brush their teeth.”

Over the years, The Willows has reached out to the community with a number of school-wide projects. The Willows has partnered with Magnolia School, a nearby public elementary school, on many occasions. Service projects have included a “dictionary drive” to supply new classroom dictionaries, mural-painting for exterior building walls on the Magnolia campus, and establishing a garden. “The focus on hands-on activities has been a great way to bring together current students, parents, and alumni, with projects where everyone can contribute,” says Lisa.

The Willows has also made a concerted effort to reach out to nearby Culver City. “From our very earliest days, Willows kids were participating in the annual Ballona Creek cleanup,” remembers Terri. More recently, The Willows has joined with Culver City to support the Police Department’s Juvenile Diversion program, an innovative, highly successful, hands-on program that helps mentor at-risk teenagers. The Willows’ Tech Department is also helping to coordinate donations of old laptops to the Culver City Police Department, who distributes them to needy families in the area, to the Culver City Youth Center, and to nearby Farragut Elementary School, which is part of the Culver City School District.

Community service is personal at The Willows, even when the school is reaching out internationally. In response to this winter’s tragic earthquake in Haiti, two Willows parents helped to coordinate the “Ten Things for Haiti,” project, in which Willows families brought in staples and essential supplies to be transported to Haiti, including rice, beans, and baby formula. “Watching The Willows community come together to help others is both inspiring and gratifying,” says Lisa Rosenstein. “It sets an incredible example for our children in terms of what it means to be a citizen in our global community.”