When the holidays rolled around during my first year of teaching, I knew I wanted to do something unique with my fourth-grade students. Something that would take their focus off presents, off themselves, and put it on others. Something that would inspire gratefulness for all they had and compassion for those with less.
I scoured local nonprofit organizations, checked out donation opportunities at several churches, and talked to other teachers about their ideas. I considered “adopting” a local family and collecting donations from among my students to provide gifts for them, but so many of my students had done that type of thing in previous years. There was no wonder, no new lesson, no epiphany waiting to happen. And I really wanted something more…personal. I wanted my students to connect with whomever we chose to help, to be changed by the experience.
And then one day, it struck me. My husband and I had been looking into “adopting” a child from an international children’s advocacy group. You know, the kind that provides food, education and aid to children of struggling families around the world. I did a lot of research and decided that Compassion International best aligned with the objectives I was seeking for my particular class in our private school. So, I pitched the idea to my students.
“What if we adopt this little boy–Mario?” I asked, holding up the sponsor card I’d picked up at church earlier that week. Mario had brown eyes and dark hair, he was 7 years old, he lived in Mexico. Soccer was his favorite past-time, and he liked to read and draw. He had two sisters and lived with his mother and grandmother. My kids loved it. They loved him. We dedicated a wall to Mario, posted his picture there, and wrote him letters that I sent monthly. We put a collection jar on the counter, and it was always full. My students brought in postcards of our hometown, stickers, bookmarks–anything we could mail to Mario.
Mario, in essence, became the twenty-sixth student in our class. And, while the holidays came and went, Mario stayed. Rather than a hit-and-run attempt at teaching compassion through one isolated event, my class opened their arms, their hearts, to another child in another country for the entire schoolyear.
And the next fall, when a new group of students sat in front of me on the first day of school, I introduced our twenty-sixth student, again. And Mario was warmly welcomed.
Post author: Elizabeth Cossick M.Ed.
Teachers: Do you have a unique way of teaching compassion to your students? Parents: How do you instill compassion in your children at home? Post a comment on this blog entry to share your ideas!