“The idea is to help the students understand how to deal with differences by experiencing them themselves in various ways," said Ms. Piette.
After Dinka’s visit, the first graders worked together with their “Buddies” in the 5th Grade to make cards for the Center's trainers, whose hard work preparing the dogs for service often goes unrecognized. This activity was part of the year-long Buddies program that connects students across our Elementary and Middle School Divisions and introduces them to the idea of service learning.
"For older students," Ms. Piette said, "the focus of the visit was on the organization. The fifth graders will get to know how Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind supports people in the community, and as an organization that they might want to work with later for their family B'nai Mitzvah project or for our 7th Grade Philanthropy project."
At RSS, service learning and learning about socially responsible organizations is an important part of the curriculum throughout the school. Starting in the Twos, students are encouraged to contribute to tzedakah boxes in their classrooms on a weekly basis. The collections are then donated, at least twice per year, to organizations whose work is related to their studies.
In 7th Grade, service learning and philanthropy is taken to another level. In lieu of exchanging B'Nai Mitzvah gifts, RSS families are encouraged to donate to a special fund, the B'nai Mitzvah Philanthropic Initiative. Seventh grade students identify social issues they wish to support, then work in groups to research organizations that work to address these issues. At the end of the year, they select one or more of the researched organizations to receive their donations. Last year, for example, the Class of 2015 B'nai Mitzvah Philanthropic Initiative donated nearly $57,000 to 13 charities, including $7,000 to The Center for Urban Community Services to support New York City's homeless population.
These various activities illustrate the kinds of innovative strategies that our faculty members have developed to help our students understand the values of community and service learning.