Baking cookies for firemen, cleaning parks, and feeding the homeless aren’t the first things that come to mind when I think about how typical fourth graders spend their weekend. But then again, these aren’t your typical fourth graders.
These fourth graders are heroes.
I know this not only because many of them are my former students, but also because their teacher, Jessica Sherotski, takes being a Highlands Grove Hero to a new level. After discussing local news articles about high schoolers who received scholarships for their innovative community service ideas and referencing nonfiction texts focused on serving the community, Sherotski challenged her students to make the ultimate text-to-self connection: What can you do to make a difference?
I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall the day she gave students that challenge. I’d love to see them mull over what they consider to be major concerns in their community. For a moment in time, they’d forget about fidget spinners and that there is only 17 days left of school. Instead, they would be consumed in heated debates over which project to choose, how to raise money, and how they could get their family on board. They’d start to see themselves as community changers – dare I say world changers – because they have been pushed to get uncomfortable for the sake of helping others.
As I sat there listening to my former third graders share with me how they tried to meet a need in our community, I was moved by their genuine passion and excitement for their service. Kai led the presentations with confidence and authenticity, saying how being a part of ministries at his church gave him a chance to express his gratitude. I swelled with pride hearing him say, “It reinforced that I am able to do good in the world for others just as others have done for me. I may be young, but I have gifts and talents. When I use those to help the community I live in, I can make it a better place.”
The stories and presentations continued for over an hour. Sebastian, Tyler, Sam, and Malachi chose to clean a local park. Maya created blessing bags to give to the homeless in Lakeland. Kierra made local police officers candy-themed motivational treat bags to welcome them to their shift. Gabriel volunteered at the ASPCA by feeding and exercising abandoned dogs. Kensi made dolls for missionaries to take to Africa and Hannah made a butterfly house for a preschool.
Some students even found ways to volunteer at school if they didn’t have the resources or the time to work on a project from home. Kindergartners were read to and the canned food drive was organized by devoted and determined students.
It was hard to watch them and not think about what I’ve done lately to make a difference in my community. I could blame the short list I came up with on my busy schedule as Florida Teacher of the Year but I know busyness is not a new phenomenon in my life. There will always be other priorities and a busy schedule just like there will always be those in desperate need of support.
Service has to be purposeful; it doesn’t happen by accident.
Sometimes it takes the prodding of an inspirational teacher, like Jessica Sherotski, reminding you that “things that make you uncomfortable are the more powerful things that you can do.” I’ve encouraged teachers all year to get out of their comfort zone for the sake of their students and now the message is going further: get uncomfortable for the sake of our world and discover how you can be like these 10-year-old heroes, determined and willing to put others first.