Start Empathy

Powered by ASHOKA

Service: A powerful tool for cultivating empathy

Georgetown Day School shares a snapshot of service activities that help students become changemakers.

By Laura White

In May 2012, Laura graduated from Tulane University with a B.A. in Political Economy. While at Tulane, Laura brought her Youth Venture project, Swim 4 Success, to New Orleans, LA, and was a founding member of Tulane’s Ashoka U Changemaker Campus team. As a member of the Empathy Initiative, Laura manages the Changemaker Schools network, a group of schools that have given empathy as much priority as math and literacy. Laura is passionate about changemaker education, empathy, and transforming early childhood education.

February 18, 2013

Children do not become changemakers overnight.

In order for students to grow as empathic leaders, capable of working in teams to solve problems, they must have opportunities to learn about social issues, practice empathy, and take constructive action. Service provides a powerful vehicle for learning changemaker skills, and at Georgetown Day School, service is an integral part of the student experience from start to finish.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of GDS’ community service program is the service-learning curriculum’s progression throughout the lower school. In preschool through fourth grade, service-learning projects at GDS are grade-wide and homeroom base, allowing students to have a common experience from which to learn and a community with which to complete projects. For example, in preschool and kindergarten, students make sandwiches for Martha’s Table, learning counting skills and one-to-one correspondence, among other lessons. They also participate in age-appropriate discussions about hunger, building awareness from a young age. By fifth grade, students are prepared to have more choice and control over their service activities. Students meet in regular seminars to research and discuss their chosen social issue 
 whether children’s rights, immigration, hunger, or going green – as well as visit experts at sites around Washington, DC. This project culminates in four days of service and advocacy. Additionally, fifth graders also participate in one of five weekly in-school service projects to meet the needs of their own school community, like mediating conflicts between younger peers.

Load More

On top of the service-learning activities at the lower school at GDS, there are also a number of initiatives launched by GDS community members with the school. For example, in January alone, students in the lower school raised over $1,600 for victims of Hurricane Sandy, and GDS launched the “Great Kindness Challenge,” a concentrated effort to create more kindness at the school. According to Kathryn Kerr, fourth grade teacher and Changemaker Schools Change Leader, fourth grade students generated a list of good deeds and posted a new set of “suggested acts of kindness” every morning during homeroom. They then encouraged their peers to pick two or three deeds to set as a goal for themselves for the day. At the end of each day, students and teachers reflected on how doing an unexpected act of kindness for someone else impacted themselves and how the other person reacted.

Through the service-learning and traditional service projects happening at GDS, students are taking the beginning steps to becoming changemakers.

What are some of the best service activities that you do with your students or your children?

Image attribution: Fought70/Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Thumbnail attribution: woodleywonderworks via Flickr Creative Commons