Encouraging "Big Thinking"
“When I was little, I was a big thinker. I thought about things other people didn’t," says Jordan, a 6th grader in Steve Saba's class at McCall Elementary. "Like if somebody would trip and everybody would laugh, I’d laugh too, and so would the person who tripped, but I would think about how it wasn’t really funny.”
“Yeah, I always think, ‘How would they feel if it happened to them?’” agreed his classmate, Xu.
Xu and Jordan have been classmates for several years at McCall. Students at this Philadelphia neighborhood school have an opportunity that Need in Deed is working hard to make more widely available: the chance to benefit from the service-learning process at several grade levels. NID Teacher Network members - Lisa Hantman in 3rd grade, Joanna Bottaro and Allison Stewart in 5th grade, and Michelle Rivera and Steve Saba in 6th - are providing that opportunity for a number of McCall students.
As 3rd graders, Xu and Jordan learned about homelessness with Lisa, and as 5th graders in Joanna’s class, they adopted a guinea pig as part of their campaign to end animal homelessness.
This year, as experienced NID students, they are each group leaders helping to guide their classmates through the issue selection process. Although Jordan’s team is advocating for urban blight and Xu’s for pollution, it’s clear from the way they listen to each other without interrupting and acknowledge the other’s arguments that it is the process – researching, debating, voting – that really excites them.
In addition to showing that NID has a strong positive impact on students and teachers during the course of a school year, research also shows that teachers continue to benefit from, engage with and utilize aspects of our program long after their formal training with NID has ended. But talking to Jordan and Xu confirmed that the benefits of NID last long beyond the project’s end for students as well.
The sense of empathy that Jordan and Xu described at the beginning of our interview – wondering how other people feel when bad things happen to them – was a big part of why, as 3rd graders, they chose homelessness as their NID topic.
Jordan felt especially passionate about helping people with no place to live. “I feel sorry for people who live on the street. Even I feel cold at night when I forget to turn on the heater – imagine how people feel on the street!”
The issue hit even closer to home when a classmate disclosed that he and his family were living in a shelter. “I realized that I knew somebody who was homeless,” Jordan said.
“I felt sad for our classmate, but I felt so proud when we did our project because we helped people who were homeless,” Xu said. “And we were so happy when he got a home! In the beginning, I didn’t think our project would work, but we did something to help.”
Since their memories are still so clear of their projects in 3rd and 5th grade, I asked Xu and Jordan if they think they will always remember their NID projects and care about the issues they chose.
“I’m a forgetful person,” Xu said with a smile. “But if I am successful when I grow up, I want to give money to help animals. And when I get older, I want to get a dog from a shelter so no dogs will have to be put down.”
“I’m always going to remember, and come back to visit all the time when I get older and tell the little kids what I learned,” Jordan said thoughtfully. “If you change just a little, it keeps spreading and will have an effect on the whole community.”