Every year the third-graders at Rockcreek Elementary School wrap up the first semester with a winter celebration. Most years, students spend the last days before Christmas break enjoying sweet treats and exchanging small gifts with each other.
This year, third-grade teachers Misty Stamper and Julie Giggy changed the plan. Rather than exchanging gifts, the students participated in an act of community service. The teachers also put the students in charge of the entire process.
“We wanted them to have ownership of the project. Instead of just telling them what we were going to do, we wanted them to plan and organize the event,” Stamper said. “We also wanted them to think of someone else at Christmastime and to learn how they could help their community.”
The 53 students divided into four committees, splitting the work into teams that would develop the menu, entertainment, craft activity and community service project. The students brainstormed ideas and then narrowed the choices to their favorite two options. Each team presented the final choices, and the entire third grade voted.
“They worked so well together, and they were so creative,” Stamper said. “They came up with ideas that I would have never thought of.”
The winning community service project involved donating items to the pediatric unit at Columbus Regional Hospital.
“They were so proud and excited to be donating items to other children,” Giggy said. “Even before we sent the letters home to the parents, students were bringing in things they wanted to give to the children.”
Giggy said the collection table wasn’t big enough to hold the students’ donations of coloring books, crayons, puzzles, markers, activity books, stickers and reading books.
“Before we started collecting items, we thought we might be able to donate 10 to 12 bags,” Stamper said. “We immediately, pleasantly realized that we were way off in our estimate.”
Giggy said the students were very thoughtful.
“They were so excited and proud,” she said. “I would hear them say, ‘If I was getting my tonsils out, I would want to read this book,’ or ‘If I was sick, I would want these stickers.’”
On the last day of school before the winter break, Giggy, Stamper and eight students and their parents visited the CRH pediatrics unit. The donation of 50 bags was far more than the teachers projected.
“The nurses were so nice. They thanked the kids and explained what happens in a pediatric unit,” Stamper said. “They also sent the entire third grade a thank-you card, which the kids loved reading.”
Giggy and Stamper said the project was a major success.
“I felt like the students really grew with this project,” Stamper said. “They were able to start with an idea and see it all the way through.”
Stamper said the students never mentioned not exchanging gifts this year.
“This project taught me how giving kids are,” she said.
Jen Wagner said her son, Bo, enjoyed the project.
“I love that the teachers at Rockcreek are teaching our kids that it is better to give than to receive. That is a huge lesson to learn at age 8 or 9,” Wagner said. “I know all the kids really felt good about doing something for someone else. Bo loved being a part of the group that delivered the bags to CRH. He turned 9 that day, and I think that was his favorite gift.”
Paige Harden is a lifelong resident of Columbus. A former Republic reporter, she is a freelance writer and public relations consultant. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.