Watching the "empathy switch" turn on
Vol. 12, No. 1
Watching the "empathy switch" turn on; Shout Out caps year with prizes, accolades; NID Features Teachers: Celeste Rodriquez, Robert Rivera-Amezola, Anna Lynette Johnson; Principal Mark Wilicki analyzes "success" at LoganWelcome Kyra Atterbury; NID Launches Charter School Consortium; Sources of Support; Back to School with Need in Deed
Watching the "empathy switch" turn on
Engaging Head and Heart
When staff from Research for Action interviewed Need in Deed Network teachers in 2007 as part of the three-year study, eighty-five percent of the teachers reported significant gains in student “empathy” over the course of the year as a result of their service-learning project.
The three projects judged as “outstanding” at NID’s culminating celebration for students serve as demonstrations of this oft cited outcome.
Denise Eiler’s students are wild about animals
Ever seen a dog dressed in a tuxedo, or decked out in leather biker gear? Denise Eiler’s 8th grade class at Woodrow Wilson Middle School, in Northeast Philadelphia, attracted more than 300 students and teachers to their pet fashion show last spring. Attendees paid to see animals dress like people and people dress like animals, all to benefit nonprofits that rescue abused and neglected animals.
Ms. Eiler’s students worked in groups of 5 or 6, with each one responsible for designing and implementing a mini service project to address their chosen problem of animal abuse. The energy and creativity generated by the students powered their learning for the better part of the year. They met with representatives from the Morris Animal Refuge, PAWS (Philadelphia Animal Welfare Association) and the Pennsylvania SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).
Through Presents for Pets, Dollars for Dogs, Coins for Cats, a bake sale and the fashion show they raised more than $700.
While visiting the SPCA, the students learned that volunteers must be at least 16 to donate time to the shelter. Rather than be discouraged, one student’s response was, “I can’t wait until I’m 16!”
Third graders focus on obesity and nutrition
Lisa Hantman’s third grade students at McCall Elementary School focused their project on hunger, obesity and, ultimately, healthy lifestyles. The process evolved as they learned from the variety of community partners with whom they met – a list that scrolls down like the credits on a major motion picture: Eat.Right.Now, FreeRice, MANNA, Pennsylvania Hospital, Philabundance, the Souper Bowl of Caring, Stamp Out Hunger, Urban Nutrition Initiative, as well as the school nurse and dieticians from the School District of Philadelphia.
Their project culminated in an Exercise-a-Thon at their school, through which they raised $500. They donated the proceeds to MANNA – a Philadlephia nonprofit that delivers food to people with life-threatening illnesses.
In reflecting on her students’ project, Ms. Hantman wrote: “One thing I noticed is the children began to react differently when we used the word ‘obese’ or ‘fat.’ They did not snicker, and they did not all turn to stare at J, who is obese, and who had been subtly persecuted for it earlier in the year.”
Students express “deep concern and compassion”
Kim Rakosky’s 4th graders at Bache Martin Elementary School focused their yearlong service-learning project on homelessness. They worked closely with Back on My Feet (BOMF) – an organization that promotes running as a way to help build self-confidence and self-sufficiency among Philadelphia’s homeless population. Their Jog-a-Thon raised money to buy running shoes for the organization’s homeless clients.
The students learned about this issue from a wide variety of perspectives. They read interviews with real children in New York City shelters, talked with local business owners who lose customers when homeless people camp out on their steps, were inspired by a visit from a homeless runner, one of BOMF’s success stories.
“My students have expressed deep concern and compassion in their reflections,” said Ms. Rakosky. She saw the “empathy switch” turn on when students were discussing their project.
“At first I didn’t want to go near homeless people,” said Kasmir. “I thought they were dangerous and could hurt me. Now I know they are like everybody else.”
Howie wants to be a Marine when he grows up. Through the class’s research he learned that “a lot of the homeless are veterans.” He wants to know why we’re not taking care of the people who fought for us.
Said Ms. Rakosky of her students, “Their project planning discussions burst with emotions of empowerment. They have learned the meaning of empathy. They’re proud and pleased, and so am I.”
Photography by Rodney Atienza
Shout Out caps year with prizes, accolades
Students take pride in a job well done
NID Feature Teachers
Celeste Rodriguez, Robert Rivera-Amezola, and Anna Lynnette Johnson
8th grade teacher, Stetson Middle School, Kensington
Teach for America teacher
I wanted to teach because of my love for education and children and my respect for the hard work my mother did as a teacher for 25 years. Eighth graders are magical beings who still have the hope of small children but the ability to think through mature situations. The conversations I am able to have with them about real life issues are amazing to me.
My school has the opportunity to tap into the civic concerns and problem solving skills of our students. It is my high hope that Need in Deed can help my school and me develop an environment that empowers students to value their education, community involvement and their own development.
4th grade teacher, Frances E. Willard School, Kensington
I am a 4th grade teacher in my seventh year. I became a teacher after an extremely positive three years in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, where I taught high school in the Federated States of Micronesia. Since then I have earned a Masters in Social Work and have been involved in social justice issues outside of the classroom. Linking my interest in social justice issues with the classroom has always interested me. However, I have not been able to successfully implement a program. This is partly because of the undue pressure we feel through the year as teachers to meet state testing requirements. This consumes an enormous amount of time and energy.
Given what I have known and heard about Need in Deed, this program may be the ideal way to tap my social justice interest as well as the innate desire for children to help others.
Anna Lynette Johnson
6th grade teacher, Jay Cooke Elementary School, Germantown
I became a teacher because I wanted to contribute to society in a meaningful way. Recognizing that everyone needs a teacher, I thought it would be a wonderful way to plant seeds that will bloom in society's garden in the future.
I am interested in becoming part of Need in Deed's Teacher Network because it seems like an innovative tool to facilitate meaningful, student-driven engagement opportunities both inside and outside the classroom.
Principal Mark Wilicki analyzes "success" at Logan
Making Yearly Progress
In describing his leadership of Logan Elementary, a K-6 school in Philadelphia’s Logan neighborhood, Mark Wilicki talks more like an NFL coach than a school principal.
“I’m very competitive,” he admits. “I don’t want to see Logan be second in anything. I told my staff ‘I’m tired of mediocrity. Just once I’d like to knock Fitler (a high performing elementary school in the District) down. Just once!’”
He is justifiably proud of Logan’s successful “game plan,” which required an intense and prolonged team effort, four years in execution. The key elements were: site selection (Mr. Wiliki and his staff are able to choose their colleagues rather than rely on placement by seniority); excellent professional development; small group instruction and close targeting and monitoring of individual students who were falling behind in literacy and math.
Last year was also the first year of Logan’s participation in Need in Deed’s Teacher Network.
“What I like about Need in Deed,” says Mr. Wiliki, “is the creativity and flexibility it offers teachers. You can’t find that in the core [curriculum]. NID allows kids to go beneath the surface and become more knowledgeable about a topic. It builds an awareness in students of causes and effects. And they develop camaraderie amongst themselves. Isn’t it all about educating the whole person?”
Logan teachers Jasmine Williams and Alexis Fallen participated as Network teachers last year. Ms. Williams’ 4th grade class did a project on asthma; Ms. Fallen’s 6th grade, on obesity. This year they are joined in the Network by two other Logan teachers: Steffanie Staller and Jennifer Tustin.
“You also get to see teachers develop a rapport with their students,” he said. “It’s neat to watch them working together. They become like a team, their own little corporation working for a common goal.”
As the school disciplinarian, Mr. Wiliki spends more time with students who behave badly than with the average I-want-to-make-a-difference student. He was floored when Ms. Fallen’s students came to him with a proposal that addressed the problem of obesity in the school.
“They came to sell me on their plan,” he said. “They talked with me like young adults. I saw them in a different light.”
NID welcomes new program staff member Kyra Atterbury
From Community Partner to Program Staff
About three years ago, as Assistant Director of Education at the National Liberty Museum, Kyra was a community partner for a NID class that had chosen bullying as their topic. We remember our program staff returning from a classroom visit, remarking how effectively Kyra and her colleague used a paper shredder as a tool to help the students work through issues with verbal aggression.
After leaving the National Liberty Museum, Kyra was the Social Emotional Instructor at Mastery Charter School, facilitating discussions with students about personal and academic skills, including topics such as decision making, relationships and college preparation.
We had another serendipitous insight into Kyra’s background. About ten years ago, her mom, Mary Atterbury, worked with us when she taught at the John Story Jenks School. Now retired, Mary had positive memories of her connection with NID (and vice versa). When Kyra told her about the opening, her mother encouraged her to apply.
Kyra felt “Being in the classroom was great, but I thought I could effect more change outside the classroom.” Perhaps the insights she’d gained might help teachers and students better understand each others’ perspectives. This led her to enroll at Chestnut Hill College, from which she will receive her M.S. in Child and Adolescent Therapy in 2010.
Certainly, Kyra’s familiarity with daily life for teachers complements her work with us. “I know how rewarding and also challenging it can be. We can affect teachers’ skills while also affecting the behavior and academic skills of their students.”
NID launches Charter School Consortium
I can't wait to do this with my students," said one teacher.
“I can’t wait to do this with my students,” said one teacher.
Said another, “This is the kind of teaching that gets kids excited about learning.”