When Sasha Arias was the same age as her students, she volunteered at a nursing home every week, reading to the residents and playing games with them. “It instilled in me the value of giving back,” said the 6th-grade social studies teacher at MS 247 on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. “How we treat others, especially those in need, brings value to our lives.”
Arias thought the students at her school would fall in love with community service, too. So this year, she started the school’s community service club, which accomplished three projects during its first semester in the fall.
The club organized a bake sale to raise money for Autism Speaks, started a food and clothing bank and planted daffodils around the school building.
The club’s 11 student members “pretty much do everything,” Arias said. For each project, they took care of every detail, from making fliers to cleaning up. “The kids really love how active and engaging it is,” said Arias. “We don’t sit and talk. We move, make things and do research.”
Emmanuel, a 6th-grader in the club, said he enjoyed “baking and having fun and learning that we should always care about other people.” Felix, who moved to New York when he was 5 years old, used to distribute food to homeless people in the Dominican Republic. “I wanted to give out food here, so I asked the principal if I could, and she told me about the club,” he said.
Laisa, another 6th-grader, joined because she “wanted to help out the community.” She was excited to raise money for Autism Speaks because one of her cousins has autism. “He’s very young, but I want to support him,” she said.
After just a few months of service, “Ms. Arias and her students have made our community better,” said Wendy Guardado, the school’s chapter leader and a 6th-grade ELA teacher. “This group is doing amazing work, and Ms. Arias is a dedicated teacher who is helping our students to learn the value of citizenship.”
Arias thinks giving back is vital for all students, but especially beneficial for middle school students. “At that age, kids tend to feel lost,” she said. “This is a time when students are finding their voice, and activism is one way to do that.”
She encourages the club members to take ownership of their work. The club, she said, is “a living, breathing program that they’re working diligently to create.”
One recent day, after researching homeless shelters where they could bring donations of food and clothing, club members took a stroll to a tree outside the school’s front doors. The ground underneath is bare now, but the students gathered around it proudly, knowing that in the spring, the daffodils they planted will bloom, and the hard work they did months earlier will brighten up the sidewalk.