For upcoming Valentine’s Day 2021, students at The New Century School are making a “wholehearted” push to spread some love to the Baltimore community. Compassion and service are two core values at TNCS and, along with respect and courage, are part of the day-to-day “invisible” curriculum. Finding new ways to demonstrate these values has been an ongoing goal of the 2020–2021 school year. This winter, students in all divisions have come together and overcome the practical challenges of partial remote learning to put these values to work in meaningful ways. TNCS students are showing our community within and beyond the campus walls what’s in their hearts.
Due to the changes this pandemic year has brought, service initiatives have largely come from the TNCS Parent Council and its committees, with the support of Señora Duncan and the TNCS administration. Continuing to emphasize service has been important to the TNCS community, who understand why this kind of engagement is so beneficial to children’s social, academic, and emotional development. And, according to research by Edutopia, “A schoolwide focus on cultivating traits like self-discipline, courage, and perseverance helps students meet high expectations.” This focus also stretches beyond the classroom, preparing students to contribute to the world as adults.
Hygiene Kits for Beans and Bread
So, classrooms in all divisions are collaborating on hygiene kits for Baltimore’s homeless population to provide basic supplies that are heartbreakingly out of reach for some. The timing is critical. Not only is it nice to show some love during “heart month,” but after the end-of-year holidays pass and the new year has begun, charitable donations taper off, which sadly coincides with the time of year those in need most require support and warmth.
Explore the Issue
Larger themes underlie this initiative as well, and the PC Community Engagement committee member and TNCS mom Mary Kay Page, who organized it and has kept it running so smoothly, was careful to make sure those themes became part of the process:
It’s important to me that service projects further compassion and empathy. I believe one way to accomplish that is to more deeply understand the people and the issues you support. To that end, I wanted to help ensure this was a service-learning opportunity by providing some resources for both the service and the learning aspects.
Ms. Page also credits her contact at Beans and Bread, Evan Gough, Senior Volunteer Coordinator for his help along the way.
An age-appropriate video was included with the resources distributed among the TNCS community that demonstrates economic inequality with Legos. “Brookings Fellow Richard Reeves shows the chances that the poorest fifth of Americans have to rise to the top, based on their race, the marital status of their mothers, and their level of education.”
In addition, a Fact Sheet for Kindergarteners through 2nd-graders is another way to start meaningful conversations with children and de-stigmatize homelessness, which is vital now more so than ever with the pandemic-related economic catastrophe affecting so many.
For older students, a game called PlaySpent simulates the choices that go into how to make ends meet after losing a job (“It’s just stuff until you don’t have it”).
Stories about local people provide a powerful reality check about how the pandemic has wrought such havoc in the lives of our neighbors.
Other informative resources were also included for adults, such as links to National Coalition for the Homeless and Homelessness in Baltimore | Healthcare for the Homeless.
Assemble the Kits
Kit collection was originally supposed to end on February 12th for distribution around Valentine’s Day, but the initiative is gaining momentum, and the original goal of 150 total kits for men, women, and children lovingly assembled by TNCS students seems well within reach with another few days tacked on. The initiative will now run through Friday, February 19th.
With clear instructions provided in English and Spanish, TNCS students and their families got to work.
Here’s how TNCS Parent Council Director Tilly Gurman describes her experience with her two children:
[My son] and I watched the video with the legos to talk about poverty in the United States. Then, I worked with [him] to help calculate how many of each item we would need, before we went to the store. I then took [my son] with me to the store, and he helped me count the number of the items we needed. I picked a store where I could get all the items I needed in one place, in order to save time. The next day, [my son], [my daughter] and I worked together to create the bags. We made it a fun activity for everyone.
Other TNCS moms also got impressively strategic with their approaches. Haleigh Forbes plans to donate 54 kits in the coming days. How did she manage to assemble a full third of TNCS’s overall goal?
We went out and bought the stuff for 10 kits at the Dollar Store, and I thought why not crowd sourse this! It was just such an easy and inexpensive way to help someone meet their basic needs. So we raised $430 from posting it on Instagram, and I bought all the items and packaged them all up.
I’ve also encouraged everyone to make 3 and always have them in your car so you can give them out while driving.
Ms. Forbes suggestion of having three in the car to distribute while driving is a great one and is what many TNCS classrooms encouraged families to do last year. This allows students to see first hand the difference their efforts can make in someone’s day.
(Note the socks, which are one of the most needed and least frequently donated items for individuals experiencing homelessness.)
At the inception of the TNCS Hygiene Kit Drive, 150 kits was acknowledged as quite an ambitious goal. With the way the TNCS community has joined forces since then, that goal is on track to be surpassed by dozens, translating to helping that many more individuals maintain some dignity in the face of extreme hardship. What a testament to and an embodiment of the values we share 💚💛🤍.
Although February is a big month for showing that you care—in fact, on the heels of Valentine’s Day comes Random Acts of Kindness Day on Monday, February 17th—it’s not the only time this year that the TNCS community has come together to show love to those who need food or clothing or even just a pick-me-up. Throughout the year, families and students have showered teachers with tokens of appreciation, and food and clothing drives got the most donations ever this year.
“If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.”