6th grade students in Mrs. Beth Rushing’s Experiential Learning class have discovered that community service is as much about feeling good about themselves as it is about helping others. Instead of talking about how students can help others, Mrs. Rushing is showing her students exactly what service in the community looks like and how a simple act of kindness can change a person’s entire day.
Experiential learning is defined as learning through the reflection of doing. EL uses a hands on approach to learning life skills and teamwork, then takes that learning to the next level by evaluating and reflecting on what was accomplished and why.
The first step Mrs. Rushing takes with her class is to explain they will feed those in need at the Community Shelter of Union County. But they won’t just take food to the shelter. Students first learned to prepare the food. Using some produce from the UA Community Garden and other donated foods, the students created a taco bar by cutting the lettuce, onions and tomatoes and cooking the hamburger meat. They also baked homemade desserts with their parents.
The students were quick to share that cooking the meal was fun, but the best part of their time at the shelter was eating with those they served and sharing stories about each other’s lives. The class was also able to see how much their homemade desserts and fresh watermelon meant to everyone. One student commented “Everyone’s eyes lit up because we took the time to make them a homemade dessert and they were good desserts, too! We brought vanilla cake with fresh strawberries, chocolate chip cookies, brownies and cupcakes.”
Mrs. Rushing feels that the students being involved in all aspects of the meal from growing the tomatoes to baking a dessert shows a deeper concern for those they are serving. Her opinion was quickly verified as Landon Ray explained, “I’d rather go help people than go to Discovery Place.” Other students agreed that their trip to the shelter was one of their top three favorite school events. Caleigh Zelakowski added, “We realize how fortunate we are.”
Taking the time to serve others and be appreciated for the effort seemed to have other positive effects on the students according to Mrs. Rushing. On the way home she said she heard many students thank the bus driver for driving them and thank her for the opportunity to serve. So while the residents of the shelter benefited from a delicious meal, UA students may have received more than they gave.