With an experiential leadership component threaded constructively throughout the grade school experience, students who enter middle school will be decidedly different. They will bring an authentic desire for education that continues to include opportunities to use their knowledge and abilities in ways of value to others. Having a track record of making a difference and a national checklist of projects, our students will be able to make decisions about their next projects. Teachers can opt for projects that reflect content alignment with their specific disciplines.
Students emerging from this grade school foundation of service learning will have communicated with their peers nationwide and globally and seen the outcomes of their combined efforts. They will have seen solutions begin to form in developing areas of the world and the markings of peaceable, productive relationships evolving from nationwide outreach. They will know that younger students sustain and develop the leadership grade school projects in which they engaged.
The goal as we build through these middle and high school years will be to maintain continuity, providing progressive layers of service leadership work for our emerging young adults.
Information from our food banks and models from the database along with work done by students in my college classes suggested the following layers of expansion:
- Grades 7, 8: global food donations
- Grades 9, 10: grocery store donations
- Grades 11, 12: restaurant donations
Grades 7–8: Global Food Donations
Freerice.com is a website that utilizes multiple-choice exercises to strengthen a variety of academic subjects. Rice is donated to developing nations through the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) based on correct answers.
Possible Service Learning Outline:
Visit poverty.com for class discussion.
Visit thehungersite.com to donate a cup of food to an impoverished person. Then go to freerice.com to engage in progressive skill building in areas such as English vocabulary and grammar, humanities (famous paintings and literature), chemistry, human anatomy, geography (flags of the world, countries, world capitals, landmarks), math (multiplication table and prealgebra), languages (German, Spanish, French, Italian), and SAT preparation. Success in these skill-building areas generates rice to support the global need for food.
Write a personal reflection on global food insecurity, drawing on sister-city information and community efforts to address local food insecurity.
Total rice donations and scores in academic areas on freerice.com can be shared in a school-wide assembly and with the community. The inclusion of statewide and national outcomes could expand recognition that we are a powerful force for good when we work together. Fifth graders would add these global food donations statistics to a graph that represents total food donations from the community.
Middle School Language Arts Teacher Perspective:
- “Students are driven by the positive reinforcement of rice given. The beauty of it is that it hits every level. I have kids who have poor language skills, yet the levels on freerice.com meet their need. Students can chart their progress in the vocabulary levels. Students were very excited to play the game knowing they were increasing their language skills and helping people around the world.”
Grades 9/10: Grocery Store Donations
Dialogue with food bank staff can reveal a need for specific food items. The food bank may be in need of tuna fish or peanut butter but receive donations of pasta and baked goods. While all donations are appreciated, needed items may be difficult to obtain. One of our faith-based food pantry staff provided this perspective: “I ask for specific items in the church bulletin but we don’t receive them. We have lots of spaghetti, but people still bring spaghetti because they always bring spaghetti.”
In a grocery store food-garnering service learning model, students get a specific shopping list from the food bank and create a check-off list of needed items that can be displayed at the grocery store entrance. Community members would check off their donations to reflect new quantities needed. Information about how food insecurity is being met, along with the fifth-grade graph, would be posted in this location. The grocery store could donate any frozen or dairy items reaching their due date, thereby reducing organic waste and hauling costs for the store.
Students transport all donated items to the food bank each week and stock the shelves. They would also organize volunteer support to maintain the project during vacations.
Grades 11/12: Restaurant Donations
Certain restaurants and food service companies regularly donate excess food to food banks. Older students can develop communication and presentation skills through advocacy work with community restaurants to bring them onboard with this natural opportunity to give back. Restaurants already engaged in excess food donation can help other restaurant owners see how some in the industry are accomplishing this much-needed community contribution. Students would share information with restaurant owners to create more ongoing partnerships between local restaurants and food banks.
Volunteer transport is the other project component students could coordinate. Local businesspeople or restaurant employees often find this volunteer transport role adds a valuable and convenient service component to their lives as they can drop off food at the food bank on their way home from work. Students could create and maintain volunteer support information.
City Harvest of New York City has a “street fleet” of corporate volunteers who help capture the small amounts of food that would not be cost-effective to pick up with larger trucks. Our students could learn, through a national checklist of projects, of communities managing transport challenges along with setup specifics. In a nationwide K–12 curriculum, over time, everyone would become familiar with these programs and how they work.
As grocery stores and restaurants get on track to donate excess food, their donations are acknowledged in updates from the food bank and represented in fifth graders’ graphs.
Tax Credit: A Hidden Detail of Support
When the food bank began sending donation statistics, they also included a dollar amount for tax credit. The director of the food bank explained that there could be tax credit for donations from for-profit restaurants and food service companies. A fuller cycle of giving thus presented itself: what if the for-profit food service in our public schools had given leftover frozen foods? They could have received a tax credit, the dollar amount of which could have been donated to our youth for more service work.
What a wonderful cycle among us all, with the added benefit of free marketing for the food service not only to parents but also to the next generation of adults coming to know of their good work in giving back to the community. It would cost them nothing. The realization of this fragment of potential would provide students with some extra funds for use in their service projects. Restaurants and grocery stores that donate excess food could also pass these tax savings on as donations to youth actively involved in bettering their communities.