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Service Learning Projects Empower Students at Crane Country Day School

Local sixth- through eighth-graders are making connections within the community and around the world

Five children are currently attending school in Africa thanks to the fundraising efforts of 31 students in Montecito. The sixth-grade students at Crane Country Day School helped a handful of children in Luanda, Kenya, realize their dream of going to school after a fundraising campaign earlier this year yielded more than $600 — enough to cover costs of admission and books.

This program is just one of many community outreach initiatives that Crane Upper School students are participating in this year, as part of their course in Service Learning. Under the direction of teacher Janey Cohen, Service Learning is a comprehensive program that encourages middle school students to think beyond their experiences to gain a greater understanding of global issues and local concerns.

“We are teaching Crane students to be ambassadors of the world, to have compassion for different cultures and to empower them with the knowledge that one person can make a difference,” Cohen said.

Sixth-graders are forging connections with peers in Kenya the old fashioned way — by writing and receiving personal letters.

“It’s the connections we make with others that give our life meaning,” Cohen said.

Sixth-graders are also creating partnerships with organizations closer to home, collecting food for the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County and making tray favors for Meals on Wheels, in addition to volunteering at a local preschool for underserved children.

While it may seem that the efforts of this class are literally all over the map, Cohen says that’s intentional. The overall objective of Service Learning is that the program be student-initiated.

“The power of student choice is becoming a greater theme at Crane,” Headmaster Joel Weiss said. “It’s one thing to have beautiful orchestrated activities, but the real power comes into play when the students make the choices themselves. This takes much more time, but the end results are really powerful.”

It is for this reason that the Service Learning at Crane supports a varied lot. The seventh-grade class, which is divided into three sections, has selected nonprofits related to animal care and preservation. To date, seventh-graders have raised $1,000 to benefit the Marine Mammal Center. The students created a “Have a Heart for Marine Mammals” evening on Valentine’s Day, inviting parents to drop off their children for a nominal (tax deductible) fee, while students offered babysitting and an ocean-themed movie (Dolphin Tale and Finding Nemo).

Another group of seventh-graders chose to work with shelter animals, joining forces with BUNS (Bunnies Urgently Needing Shelter) and C.A.R.E. 4 Paws socializing the animals to make them more adoptable.

“I have learned so much about letting go of the need to control the Service Learning program these past two years, and we are now reaping the benefits of students feeling empowered in their ability to exact change on the world,” Cohen said.

When students pick a charity that means something to them, their level of enthusiasm and involvement increases exponentially. Perhaps the best example of this is the eighth-grade class and their support of the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation and the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

After a fellow classmate’s sister was diagnosed with cancer, the entire eighth-grade class got inspired to assist their friend, and other afflicted children by creating The Beary Book of Wonders, a 67-page activity book that will be distributed to kids at local hospitals who are undergoing chemotherapy. Each child receives a copy of the book in a tote bag filled with pencils, crayon, stickers and temporary tattoos.

“I think it’s really meaningful for the kids to have something to do — to smile and be happy,” eighth-grader Brenda Rodriguez said.

The eighth-grade class is also working to support the Make-a-Wish Foundation of the Tri-counties by staging a significant fundraiser, called The Wish Concert on the Crane field. Slated for 3 p.m. Saturday, April 21, the concert will feature the music of Crane’s own Vibes along with some talented guest performers. Their goal is to raise $5,000 to make a wish come true for a local child with a life-threatening illness.

In an entirely different, but also student-driven initiative, Crane’s oldest students are helping some of the older members of our community, partnering with the Friendship Center, a local adult daycare facility. Students visit the center, spending time with the elderly singing songs, making crafts and playing games.

“At Crane, we feel strongly that to empower our students they need to have their voices heard and their choices honored,” Cohen said. “So much of the adolescent world is controlled by parents and teachers, but the Service Learning projects allow students to choose, and subsequently shine, while following their passion and doing valuable work.”

— Ann Pieramici represents Crane Country Day School.

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