March 14, 2023
The power of community is the cornerstone of education.
As students start school, we begin making our classroom community, and continue to build and grow that all year long. As we lay the foundation for children to forge positive, safe and meaningful relationships with each other, with their teachers and with other caring adults in school, we teach them that they are a valued member of a learning community.
This empowers them to build knowledge and perseverance, and to grow as human beings. In a classroom community, skills are continuously being taught. Valuable skills such as teamwork, empathy, cooperation, using strengths, recognizing the strengths of others, communication and building confidence are among some of the most important learning opportunities taking place in school. The skills help kids transition and become more connected to their society.
In my classroom, I start in small ways to expose students to their community and help them navigate through what it means to be part of a broader societal group. I teach them that they can make a difference by participating even in the smallest possible ways within their own community.
By exposing my students to community helpers such as dentists, police officers, firefighters, Native American educators and other community members, they can see “possibility models” of whom they could become as adults. This part of our community study is always a huge success with the kids.
Additionally, we discuss members of our community who volunteer: people who dedicate their time and energies at places like our school, Goodwill, St. Vincent DePaul and the Salvation Army soup kitchen. We talk about how volunteers feel good about helping others, and we talk about ways we can start to help in our community.
We discuss and brainstorm ideas about how we can send our unused toys or outgrown clothes to places such as Goodwill, Salvation Army and St. Vincent DePaul to help other children in our community who may not have the same opportunities as we have. Additionally, our school has a nonperishable food collection just before the holidays, and we talk about why it’s important to help others who may be hungry. We then collect canned food donations for the month. Kids feel a sense of pride and have a connection to their community when they help others.
Rounding out our school year is our culminating project, Camp Skeeter. Students have worked hard all year long in first grade, and Camp Skeeter is a wonderful way to celebrate their hard work. We use many community partners to make Camp Skeeter a success. We partner with the DNR Pocket Park, a local screen-printing shop to make our t-shirts and the Turkey Federation.
Camp Skeeter takes place at the DNR Pocket Park. It is a day camp filled with new and fun activities that many of the kids have never been exposed to. Activities such as archery, fishing and target shooting are among some of the stations that students get to participate in. Students also get the chance to operate the fire hose with a firefighter and learn how they put out wildfires. Smokey Bear makes a surprise appearance at Skeeter, and it is always a huge hit with the kiddos!
But the most important aspect of the event is the volunteerism from many programs and individuals needed to create this fun-filled day of experiential learning, including from the Turkey Federation, a nonprofit group in our community. These men take one half of their day to educate the youth of their community about how to responsibly and safely fish, shoot and practice archery.
The opportunities for young students to meet older people from their community allows them to cross generational boundaries and build positive relationships with people they’ve never met before. Furthermore, students can see the importance of helping others as they grow up. The tangible impact of paying it forward is understood by our students at this event.
I am always so impressed by the outpouring of help, support, and the number of resources our community will offer to help our students have successful experiences. I think that by offering students the opportunity to experience and understand the importance of community service and see it in action we are building future leaders who know the importance of helping their communities and lifting others.
About Nanette Hanson: I am a proud teacher with 20-plus years of varied teaching experiences in several teaching positions, from alternative high school through first grade. I work each day to build safe and supportive relationships that help kids grow and flourish while embracing each child’s needs and individuality. As Michigan Teacher of the Year 2022-23, I will strive to continue to build relationships with educational stakeholders to work toward building systems that better offer equitable, inclusive educational opportunities for all students across Michigan.