Newton Elementary is a K-7 school located in a culturally diverse area of west Surrey. As educators, we noticed that while our students were generally kind and respectful towards adults, peer-to-peer relationships were more of a challenge.
We felt that the best way to teach these young people the importance of values like consideration and empathy would be to have them come up with ideas for practical, hands-on ways to solve problems and help others in their school community.
The experience of carrying out their caring projects would be a powerful lesson in the positive impact of giving. We also wanted to include the students in our school’s Social Development program in this project-based initiative, as they had not formally had the chance to reach out and support others in the way that they themselves had been supported.
Our inquiry question was: “If we provide opportunities for our students to develop their own real-world projects to build a more respectful school community, will this have a positive impact on their interpersonal relationships and help them become more empathetic towards others?”
We implemented the social emotional learning program, Caring in Action (CIA), with our school’s two grade six classes and nine Social Development students (ranging from grades 3 to 7). With strong curriculum connections, the program was easily integrated into our regular classroom schedule. The students began by engaging in activities designed to foster appreciation of each other’s talents and unique personalities.
The students next turned their attention to coming up with solutions to problems they identified around the school. We encouraged them to take ownership of the process and providing support and guidance as needed. After assessing which of their ideas would be the best fit for our school, the students moved forward with four separate projects.
The grade six classes designed three activities to accomplish two very different goals, helping lonely students form friendships with others and reducing air pollution in the school parking lot caused through vehicle idling.
The Social Development group of students chose to create attractive decorated pencils as a surprise gift for the kindergarten class.
Our students designed the concept of a “Buddy Bench” where kids could go to get ideas for fun activities and connect up with friendly peers. For the primary students, they also drafted a plan for a “Friendship Club” which would meet at recess for games and activities. The “air pollution” group created posters to raise awareness about the contribution of car exhaust to air pollution and its impact on human health.
The experience of collaborating to design workable projects fostered a spirit of teamwork and cooperation and helped our students practice effective communication and help make a positive difference in someone’s day.
A key goal for us in launching this project was to encourage our students to treat one another with respect and consideration on a daily basis. We also wanted them to form meaningful links with adult staff members and with their peers in other grade levels. Through the Caring in Action program, our students have obtained effective tools and techniques for managing their emotions and for communicating productively with others.
Students now have a better appreciation of the way that their actions affect older and younger students, school staff and even family and friends outside of school.