I experienced "Great Joy" today, and I'd like to share it here.
Today, our 5th grade students participated in multi-layered service projects. I live, and teach, in a community where most people have the luxury of counting their blessings on a daily basis for having a home to live in, food to eat, and nice clothes to wear. This week, and especially today, we spent some time thinking about those less fortunate than we are: the homeless, the infirmed, the impoverished, and the elderly. More importantly, our students took action in an effort to make the above-listed lives better.
For the homeless, we had two actions. The first, was to assemble brown paper bag dinners for 100 people. The students made bologna and cheese sandwiches, packaged cookies and potato chips into Baggies, and put in soda pops and mints to make each meal. The second thing they did was to gather hotel/travel toiletries, and make toiletry bags for the homeless. They assembled over 100 toiletry bags.
To pay for the food needed for our dinners, each child did chores around the house to earn money, and then brought those earnings in as a donation for our service project. We also had many children donate travel size toiletries that they either purchased or had gotten at a hotel -- we had over 7 boxes of different toiletry items.
For the elderly and infirmed, we practiced some songs we would sing at the nursing home/ rehabilitation center close to us, and we made holiday cards to bring some cheer into these people's lives. After school, some of the children voluntarily met at this nursing home, sang carols, and handed out homemade greeting cards.
Finally, we bought a cow and one other animal. Yes, you heard me correctly. The teacher I work with that organizes these service projects (thanks, Maria!) had heard of a way to help impoverished people through a donation called Project Heifer. Through a set amount of monetary donations, you can help by purchasing an animal for people that allows them to become more self-sufficient. Remember the chores I said our students did to earn money? Well, the money left over after paying for the food, in addition to some other generous donations from families, will allow us to buy a heifer and a goat, sheep, or hog (students were voting between these three). How amazing is that??!!
So, back to "Great Joy" -- as I watched the students rotate through all 4 classrooms today, focused on helping others, and not on their own personal needs, I felt great joy.
Which brings me to my final point. When the students came to my room, they were going to make the holiday cards for the elderly, but I also wanted a book with a great message to read aloud to all 95 fifth graders that I would be with today. I was searching through my books, looking for just the right one to express the feeling of caring about others, when my partner in crime here at Literate Lives, Bill, walked into my room. I told him my dilemma, and he immediately said I should take a look at Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo. I am so grateful to him for this suggestion -- this book was absolutely lovely.
The pictures in the book are breathtaking and lovely, and the plot - a little girl worried about the organ grinder and his monkey that don't have a home - makes this book a must read! I actually saw fifth graders today, boys and girls alike, well up with tears at one point in the story. And at the end, they truly understood the meaning of "Great Joy".
Great Joy is a powerful book, and one that I will immediately be adding to my classroom library. It was the perfect book to read today.