The eighth graders were asked to examine the essential question, “Is poverty necessary?” The students began by developing their cognitive knowledge of the issues around poverty, its causes, its symptoms and how poverty in our society is being addressed through both the public and private sectors. This in-depth study involved reading several novels offering firsthand accounts of poverty, analyzing a joint Brookings/American Enterprise Institute report, “Opportunity, Responsibility, Security,” researching welfare policies, and eventually creating their own policy memos outlining steps they would take to assist those living in poverty within our society.
Equipped with a deeper knowledge about poverty in America, teachers presented the eighth graders with a new challenge – to take the money their class had raised through their seventh grade businesses and this year’s talent show and to put that money to work within the Oklahoma City community to help alleviate poverty. To assist the students with this challenge, they heard from the leaders There is an old Willie Nelson line, “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around,” and there is a lot of fancy research that shows Willie is right. In one Harvard study, for example, participants were asked to write a few sentences each week. One group wrote about things that had occurred during the week for which they were grateful.
The other group wrote about irritations or things that had frustrated them. After ten weeks, those who expressed gratitude were more optimistic, felt better about their lives, exercised more, and had had fewer doctor visits than those who were less grateful and more critical. While it is important to teach our kids to be grateful, I would never want them to feel guilty for their good fortune. Instead, I want to empower them to use their good fortune to help others with the understanding that “so much is required from those to whom so much has been given.” These ideas—gratitude, concern for others, service to the common good—are at the root of the Community Service Learning (CSL) program at Westminster School. This program builds academic understanding and empathy for others. It touches all Westminster students from preschool through eighth grade. It allows children to take ownership and make choices. It focuses on kids doing things for others. Westminster’s mission statement talks about actively engaging and challenging students “to solve problems as cooperative, confident, and responsible learners.”
CSL brings our mission to life. I believe CSL is one of the most important programs we have ever created for Westminster students. I hope you will read this publication to learn more about what our students and their teachers did this year to make this world a better place for others. After you read, I hope you’ll talk to your children and grandchildren about what they did, what they saw, what they felt, and what they learned in CSL.
I know that what my eighth graders and I did, saw, and learned about poverty had a powerful effect on me, and I think on them as well. Let me know what you think. Keeping busy, recent graduates Gary Smith and Lindsay Best are working this summer towards meeting the goal of signing up 220 companies to WageUpOKC by the time they graduate from high school. From the desk of Bob Vernon... of seven local nonprofits that provide direct services to people living in poverty and then participated in an elaborate poverty simulation. These experiences enabled the students to develop their central theme of “making work pay a living wage to get more people to work.”
The class then set out in two directions to help those living in poverty within our community. One group worked with the Curbside Chronicle to create a new opportunity for people already working to escape being homeless through the sale of flowers for Mother’s Day. The other group focused on creating an organization, WageUpOKC, dedicated to convincing local businesses to pay their full-time employees at least $12 an hour – the wage required for someone working in Oklahoma City to secure housing. In partnering with the Curbside Chronicle, our eighth graders agreed to become a sponsor for the Curbside Flowers promotion for Mother’s Day and were able to donate $11,400 from their class fund to underwrite this endeavor with the Curbside Chronicle. However, the real value for our students came in the form of work the students performed to assist the staff at the Curbside with spinning-up this new endeavor in less than a month.
To do this, students in the Curbside Flowers group created task forces that helped with everything from floral bouquet design, to recording an advertising jingle for local radio stations, to a business analysis team that worked to secure locations for new pop-up shops. Curbside’s initial goal was to sell 500 Mother’s Day bouquets, but thanks in part to the hard work put in by our students, they were able to sell 1,300 bouquets, which provided 39 Curbside vendors with more than 500 hours of employment at $12 an hour. Not to be outdone by their peers, the WageUpOKC student group also quickly went to work to create their new grass roots organization.
They organized into work groups that focused on tasks common to most new business enterprises; they created a mission statement and organizational structure, they developed their own marketing materials and logos, and began to develop a targeted list of local businesses to contact about collaborating with their organization. They also set a goal for themselves to have 200 business partners by May of 2022, the month they graduate from high school. To ensure they stay on track to achieve their goals, they set up a summer meeting schedule and continued contacting local businesses. Since their official launch in early May, the students have already secured 26 partner businesses ranging in size from one to 4,500 employees, and all have committed to pay their full-time employees a living wage of at least $12 an hour.
- Curbside Flowers