Many of you know I have volunteered for Junior Achievement for several years. This entails me going into my friend Luke Merchlewitz’s 2nd-grade classroom 5 times during the school year (generally, within a one-month span) and talking to his students about what it means to be part of a community. Junior Achievement (JA) is a volunteer-delivered program that shares – in a very interactive way – information about work-readiness, financial literacy and the importance of staying in school to students kindergarten through grade 12.
It’s such a great program! The volunteers have great materials to share, and the students love having the volunteers join them for 20 or minutes a week.
The “Our Community” unit has five sections. I must say, I have learned many more life lessons during these years of presenting this information in Luke’s classroom.
The top 10 are:
A community is place where we live, work and play together. To me, “together” is the key word. By the end of our shared time, the students also think that’s the most important.
Teamwork is very important. The students learn about making a product by themselves as compared to working together. They learn pretty quickly that working together in a team is much more effective and efficient, plus they get to know each other.
Volunteers are people who help others, but they don’t get paid. However, volunteers receive compensation far beyond money in the bank. They know they have helped people or organizations, learned new skills, met new people, and made a difference in the community.
You need to be creative to engage your audience. This is something I learned from watching Luke interact with his students. It applies to all of us who are speakers, teachers, etc. One approach does not fit all. Droning on and on does not work. For a student (be they a second-grader or an adult) to learn, they need to drawn in, engaged, and given information that meets their needs.
It’s important to participate. They say that decisions are made by those who show up. One of our JA lessons focuses on voting on an issue (in this case, which business should come to the community – a pet store, a music store, or a toy store?). When we move ahead in life, we are given many opportunities to participate – whether it is voting in an election, writing letters to editor, joining community groups, or giving input on issues that are happening in our community. If we don’t show up and participate, it’s not fair if we criticize the outcome.
Make good choices. Be informed about the choices you are making in community life. In personal life, make choices that will not harm yourself or others.
Everything is a teachable moment. When we tally votes or results from our JA lessons, Luke writes the results on the smart board. Often, the students add up the numbers while also participating in the lesson. It makes sense – why just look at the surface issue, when you can learn much more about what surrounds it?
Share the wonder and appreciate the little things in life. The 7- and 8-year-olds in this class are so excited about the smallest things….having a visitor in class….. getting a sticker for participating…..learning something new. That’s a good lesson for all of us. No matter how small, every action can have a positive effect. It’s sometimes hard to see and appreciate this, but it’s a good thing to do.
Keep your promises. Show up when you say you are going to. Do what you say you are going to. At the end of lesson 4, Luke told the students we would do something specific and special at the end of the fifth session, and we did……
It’s always good to dance. We promised the students that when we were done with the last lesson, we would sing and dance to a video of Pharrell William’s “Happy.” (As you know, it’s my newest anthem.) Sure enough, when we were done, Luke pulled up a YouTube video of Chinese preschoolers dancing to the song. And the second graders danced and sang. Their teacher danced and sang. And their JA volunteer danced and sang. It was delightful.
What lessons have YOU learned from second-graders and their friends?