A Culture of Service

Joking with my students one day I said, “Jesus didn’t gather his apostles around him and say, ‘Lets do a service project!’” Jesus gave us an example of how to serve one another, and I like to encourage a culture of service in my classroom.

Teaching service as a way of life can be challenging with younger children. Our students are very empathetic, and I find that having many service projects throughout the year uses their empathy to develop a culture of service. These projects don’t have to take up a lot of time or money, but the value of each project is enduring. How we serve one another is reflected in our classroom theme of “Third Graders for Others.” The first service project we do is to keep an eye out for our classmates.

May Day Basket

One of my favorite service projects is making May Day Baskets for Siena/Francis House. I have a long-standing relationship with this shelter. My husband was a member of the staff there before we were married. We had many a Friday-night date serving dinner at the house! And we have contributed to serving a meal with a local parish once a month for 25 years. I’m always looking for a way to help this shelter.

We have each student make three baskets each. Years ago I found a cute pattern for the students to color, cut, and glue together. We let them dry overnight and then fill them with popcorn and M & Ms and deliver them on May 1. I know my children enjoy making the baskets and filling them up with the colorful mix.

I find other opportunities for my class to serve the community by reading the local paper. One day I read about a special drive for some unique items. They were looking for disinfecting wipes. I knew we could help with this project. Each year, my students bring in two containers of wipes to use in our classroom, and I always have a few containers left over. It was easy to gather up 30 containers to donate. To make it festive, we added and colored a snowman cutout to each container.

Wipe container with snowman decoration

Each year we also celebrate Principal Appreciation Day. The National Catholic Education Agency (NCEA) sets aside the Thursday before Thanksgiving as a day to honor principals. A few years ago, I was on the committee to coordinate this event for the entire school. With the Siena/Francis House always in the back of my mind, I suggested we gather coffee as a donation in honor of our principal. (We also accepted donations of sugar and creamer.) The shelter uses over 100 cans of coffee in a month. Knowing that our principal is a huge coffee fan, this special event really delighted her and the Siena/Francis House was thrilled with our donation.

Next year, I hope to add a new project to coincide with Catholic Schools Week. One of our traditional fun activities is Crazy Sock Day. Our students wear their normal uniform and then add their colorful socks. Looking at the Siena/Francis House’s critical needs list, I saw that they are in constant need of socks. Having a sock drive would be a fun project to do during Catholic Schools Week that will help the shelter.

I hope these projects will help your classroom embrace a culture of service and inspire your students to always ask, “What can we do to help?”

About Barb Gilman 50 Articles
Barb Gilman is a wife, mother, and third-grade Catholic school teacher. She is the winner of the 2014 NCEA Distinguished Teacher Award for the Plains States. Active on social media, @BarbinNebraska is the co-organizer of the #CatholicEdChat on Twitter.


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