In 5th grade we do a service learning experience that aims to honor what is developmentally appropriate for 5th graders and prioritize maintaining the utmost dignity of the others.
Service Learning is such a complicated realm, as we work to ensure that we don't "otherize" or create complicated (and potentially problematic) narratives about what 'help' is and who helps whom.
Our SOME (So Others Might Eat) project is one of our favorite service learning experiences, because we think it does work towards our ideals of what service learning should look like: meaningful to all, authentic, and a learning experience!
Our project starts when 5th grade goes to study portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery- learning about how portraits are about more than just a face, but the stories behind those faces. Those stories are the key aspects that get incorporated into the art you see!
We then prepare questions, how to ask politely about other people's lives, how to work through nerves and awkwardness, speak loudly and enunciate etc.. and we also learn about SOME and they work they have done and are doing in DC.
Then 5th grade goes to SOME's Kuehner House (which provides affordable housing, activities, and other support to seniors in the community). During our visit, each student gets partnered up with a participant and interviews them. We spend about an hour together, sharing stories, taking notes, and taking pictures of one another.
5th then goes back to Sheridan and begins to work on creating portraits that capture aspects of their new friends’ personality and stories. These portraits take us a long time because we work really hard to make them as special as we can!
Excitedly (and with a different type of nerves this time!) we head back to SOME to revisit the senior participants and deliver our artwork to them. This project brings joy, dignity, and stories to both parties, and thus it is a service learning experience we continue every year. Take a look at some of the portraits our students have done -- we are biased, but we think they should be in the National Portrait Gallery, too!
This year, we were thanked with a performance by two of the seniors: beautiful singing accompanied by keyboard playing.
We'd love to hear what service learning experiences work for you all in your schools and programs. What does it look like? How do you think about it?