By Maya Pottiger
Throughout February, the 400-person junior class at Severna Park High School traveled to three elementary schools to complete their service learning project.
The project was to connect with students at Park, Brooklyn Park and Hebron Harman elementary schools and write books for their buddies.
“It is probably one of the most meaningful things that I get to be part of at Severna Park,” said Valerie Earhart, an English teacher at SPHS.
Each February, SPHS students visit the elementary schools and interview their individual buddies. They ask a series of questions about their favorite cartoon character, favorite color, etc. Then, in class, students spend time studying children’s books: the illustrations, the vocabulary and the sentence structure. Finally, they are given a blank, hardbound book so they can write a story to hand-deliver to their buddy in May.
The only requirements for the book are that they must be handmade and their buddy must be a character in the story.
“This project often brings out the best in our students, and showcases how thoughtful, responsive, kind and creative they can be,” said Brigid Harrington, an English teacher at SPHS.
Though the project is beneficial to the elementary school students, it also has an impact on the high school students.
“We are fortunate in Severna Park in that many of our students are members of families that are financially secure; this isn't the case, however, even just a few miles up the road,” Harrington said. “It's good for our students to gain a broader perspective of the challenges that some folks face and deepen their feelings of empathy.”
After visiting the schools, students noticed that these facilities weren’t guaranteed to have all the same resources, like school supplies.
“These kids are asking then, ‘Can we do something extra?’” Earhart said. “They notice quickly, even in these small interactions, that they can participate in the school building and make these kids’ lives a little better by doing something extra.”
Following the initial visit, the high school students often get attached to their elementary school buddies.
“We try to do some sort of letter writing between our visits,” Earhart said. “It’s more likely letter writing on our end and picture coloring on their end.”
The SPHS students return in May to deliver the handmade books to their buddies. During this visit, they read the books to their buddies, and then spend the rest of the time playing board games or doing other activities.
“Literacy is such a strong predictor of academic and career success,” Harrington said. “I'm glad that our students play a role in helping to inspire young readers, and the elementary kids seem very glad, too.”