A Safe Space for Difficult Discussions
“During the day, my class is so focused, but our Need in Deed work lets their personalities come out,” says Fell Elementary School teacher Bianca Bonanno of her third graders. As the class worked to identify and explore issues that concerned them in their South Philadelphia community, one question kept coming up over and over again: “Do children in our class live in poverty?”
Bianca has created a safe space in her classroom, where the students are able to speak freely about difficult issues. “We respect each other, and everything we say stays in the classroom. They get to see their differences, but also how they are alike.”
“It’s been sad and eye-opening for me as a teacher,” Bianca says of hearing about some of the challenges her students face. One student told her classmates about having to live in a car with her parents. Rather than shy away from or tease her, her classmates responded with kindness and compassion.
Bianca says their NID work helped them react this way. “Need in Deed enhances communication and decreases negativity. As a teacher, you see them grow into positive individuals, with compassion and respect.”
She has also seen how students who don’t participate a lot in class are drawn out through project work. “Need in Deed gives kids who don’t talk a lot a voice.”
During a recent visit from Albert Quarles, Homeless Coordinator for the Homeless Children’s Initiative of the School District of Philadelphia, the students’ research and preparation showed. They peppered Mr. Quarles with questions about his office in particular and the issues of poverty and homelessness in general.
One question got right to the heart of the matter: “Can kids help other kids who are living in poverty or homeless?” With a resounding “Yes!” from Mr. Quarles, they got to work brainstorming how their project and service could make a difference.
“To see them step up is really incredible,” Bianca said.