As Little Longhorns, students at The University of Texas Elementary School (UTES) desire nothing more than to mirror students at The University of Texas at Austin, where service learning is a dynamic component to the curriculum and allows students to have an impact on the community.
The same can be true for elementary school students.
On Jan. 12 a devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, prompting an immediate need for relief efforts. Students at UTES responded to the disaster by organizing service learning projects.
Traditionally, UTES students raise money every October for the United Nations International Children's Fund (UNICEF), and as a result, had experience reflecting on communities in need of relief. This year, the students were eager to address the catastrophe in Haiti.
Understanding the difficult situation abroad, third-graders discussed the sensitive issue and agreed to hold a collection drive, leveraging the support of their parents and community members. By sending letters home requesting donations, the third-grade class collected items such as food, toothbrushes and toothpaste, clothing and many other hygiene items that were listed as needed in Haiti. Collecting items for a full week, the students felt empowered, showing empathy toward a nation under distress.
Additionally, fifth-grade students participated in "Walk 4 Water," an annual H2O for Life fundraising event that promotes awareness and challenges students to walk six kilometers with six liters of water on their back, a daily task for many around the world. With empty bottles, 20 fifth-graders collected water from Lady Bird Lake and walked 4.2 miles.
Although majority of students qualify for free and reduced lunch based on family income levels, students said: "Imagine if we had to drink this water," and "What if we had to do this every day before school."
Students raised funds by pledging the "Walk 4 Water" to friends and families for donations. Fifth-grade students were able to exceed their goal of $750 by $200. The money helped the Nationale Louis Lamartiniere de Hatty School in Haiti have clean water.
UT Elementary plans to increase the number of service learning programs it offers. This June, four teachers will attend the Service Learning Texas Conference to discover new ways to incorporate service learning into their curriculum.
Mary Ledbetter, principal of UTES, wants service learning to be part of the Social and Emotional Learning curriculum to help create an environment where students are more willing to do things for the world, the community and each other. With this, Ledbetter hopes UT Elementary students will follow the core purpose of the university as they "transform lives for the benefit of society" and fulfill its mission to serve as a model school of best practices.