During a service learning project this spring, Severna Park High School juniors put a common phrase into practice: don’t judge a book by its cover.
Students from AP language arts and English 11 honors classes met their new little buddies from Brooklyn Park Elementary and Park Elementary earlier in the school year, learning about their personalities so they could make personalized books for each kid.
“When we come for the first trip, it’s really about the high-schooler meeting their buddy, learning what shows they like, what colors they like, what they like to do, because we want the books to be personalized,” said Severna Park High School teacher Valerie Earhart.
Sixty Severna Park juniors visited Brooklyn Park Elementary on May 16 to show their buddies the finished books and to read them their unique stories. Afterward, the high-schoolers joined first-graders for recess.
Maryland requires public school students to complete 75 hours of service learning to earn their diplomas. Earhart believes this project is an ideal way for her students to attain some of those hours.
“What is service? You’re doing something out of the love of your heart and you might not get a pat on the back and you might not get a, ‘Way to go,’” Earhart said. “I think real service is sacrifice without an expectation of a return.”
Although they did not expect a return, several juniors felt it was a rewarding experience. Lauren Kirchner’s little buddy was a first-grader named Andrea.
“The first time, she told me mostly about her family, that she has a dog, what she likes to do with her free time, and her favorite colors,” Lauren said. “She loves her little brother and always talks about her little brother.
“I based the book off her favorite animal, the red panda, and then flowers, so I incorporated those. I loved meeting all the little kids.”
Evelyn Triplett spent about one week making a book for her buddy.
“He likes Spider-Man, so I drew him as Spider-Man,” said Evelyn, who also played ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ and ‘Tic-Tac-Toe’ with her buddy during her visit. “It was great to be able to do something nice for the younger kids.”
Troy Weiss made a detailed book with vivid drawings for his project.
“[My buddy] liked sharks and football, so I combined those two and so it’s sharks playing football underwater,” Troy said. “I’ve always liked drawing. It was a lot of work, but he liked it.
“It’s just cool to see them enjoy something that you made, and that makes you feel closer to them,” he added.
For a trip to Park Elementary on May 20, about 300 high-schoolers visited classes in prekindergarten, kindergarten and first grade.
Earhart said her students have seen food closets and clothes closets at the schools and are learning how diverse the population is in Anne Arundel County.
“I think it’s hard sometimes when you’re in the 21146 zip code to realize what the big world looks like unless you step out,” she said. “Some of these kids walk home on Fridays with a meal because they aren’t guaranteed food at home on the weekends unless the school provides it. I think it’s important to realize [my students] are lucky to be where they’re at.
“There should be some gratitude about that, and now we can give to other students in a way that is positive because they are high-schoolers who are hanging out with a little person and I think that’s super beneficial for the high-schooler,” she said. “I get that the elementary kid is excited, but the kid who is going to be incredibly changed by this is my 17-year-old boy who’s like, ‘Oh, that stuff really happens. That’s not far from me.’”
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