They CAN and DO make a difference, a big difference.
Who are they? ….They are Alamosa Park 3rd Graders, 23 of them. They are 7 and 8 year olds who are showing the world how to give back. Their teacher, Luann Engstrom has taught at Alamosa Park Elementary for 30 years and still has the enthusiasm of a first year teacher.
Engstrom met me in the office where I was obtaining my visitor pass. As we walked to the playground where most of her charges waited, she passionately talked about the community service projects her 23 students were involved with. The service projects she described sounded like projects that are usually conducted by much older youngsters or adults.
There were several groups of kids on the playground but as we approached one group quickly formed into a single line and approached us. Engstrom introduced me to the students and they responded with good morning “Mr. Murphy”. As we headed towards the 3rd grade classroom, I continued to receive information about what these young men and women had accomplished.
As we arrived at the classroom the kids divested themselves of their backpacks and hung them on the wall outside. Once inside the classroom they immediately went to their desks and opened their Chrome Books. As I looked around the classroom I marveled at how colorful the walls were. It looked nothing like the classrooms I remember. This room was full of life. It was cheerful, bright, and somehow still possessed a very comfortable feel.
Just inside the door was a large sign at the top of the wall with flyers filling it down to within 3 feet of the floor. Engstrom told me this was the student’s “Success Board” and in bold pink letters, the sign read “We Can Make a Difference”. Each flyer on the board had large numbers associated with it via a rectangular colored paper. Some fliers also had notes affixed to them. As the significance of this display was explained to me I began to get a sense of the teacher’s excitement. The large numbers were representing the success of each project. 309 pairs of socks, 190 pairs of women’s shoes, 383 children’s books for preschoolers, 80 cans of food, 50 get well cards, are just a few examples.
Instead of one large class community service project or participation in the large school wide project, these students had agreed to perform individual community service projects. They had to do everything starting with selecting a charity. Then they had to contact the charity to decide what the charity could use or need. The next step was making the flyers that would attract attention from school mates, family, friends, and/or businesses.
There were a couple of bumps in the road. A children’s hospital was unable to accept the large collection of stuffed animals. But the youngster who had thought of the idea rebounded and found another recipient. The variety of projects these kids came up with was impressive. Cleaning up the nearby Park, walking and bathing dogs at the Humane Society, making & sending get well cards for sick students, planting vegetables at a preschool, and collecting money and all sorts of items for the needy. The following is a list of the wonderful projects;
Izzy collected stuffed animals for sick and needy children. Annalise and Katelynn planted cherry tomatoes at a pre-school. Jesse collected 309 pairs of socks for Operation Hope. Savannah collected Coats and Jackets for the homeless. Camillo collected women’s shoes for the homeless. Sarah organized a beach clean-up. Katelyn collected first aid kits for her church. Justin collected money for Tri-City’s Neo-Natal Unit. Wyatt collected food that fed families at Thanksgiving. Seth organized 100 goodie bags for our troops. Shawn organized a clean-up of Alamosa Park. Aiden’s project removed graffiti from the park. Gabriela collected 383 books for Head Start students and read to the students. Vincent collected 788 “School Tools” (supplies). Leila made get well cards for students at the school that were sick. Caleb collected 110 cans of food for the homeless. Aaliyah collected 172 toiletry items for the homeless. Andrea collected 62 blankets for La Posita De Guadelupe. Isaac collected 104 T-Shirts for the homeless. Brayden is volunteering to walk and bathe dogs at the Human Society shelter. Emily collected 39 bags of dog and cat food for the Humane Society shelter.
When I asked these 3rd grade students about their experience I got the following comments; “It was fun!” “It made me happy!” “It was a good experience.” “It made me feel good.” “It was kinda fun, exciting, and a little scary.” I asked Jesse if he knew what Operation Hope was. He quickly replied, “it’s where they take care of homeless people.” All twenty three kids knew the purpose of their respective projects. They knew who would benefit from their efforts. They all expressed the feeling of being rewarded or satisfied with their efforts to help other people. What a great learning experience.
Brayden and Emily both confessed to loving animals and having pets at home. While doing the beach clean-up Sarah and her friends found a wallet with money and credit cards inside it. They turned in over to the police who commended them for doing the right thing. Justin was personally thanked by the CEO of Tri-City Hospital. Principal Cindy Anderson also had praise for the students and their teacher. She said, “Learning to give will last a life time”. I didn’t have the opportunity to ask their parents, but I’m sure they must be very proud of what their kids accomplished in Mrs. Engstrom’s 3rd grade class. Go Hawks!