By Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A., author of The Complete Guide to Service Learning
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we didn’t need to have Hunger Action Month? If world hunger were a memory rather than a present reality, we would truly have a more equitable and mutually respectful world.
Exploring the issue of hunger in school or around the family dinner table, we can generate empathy and help one another understand how this topic requires thought and action. Service learning, a teaching method used all over the globe, affords a viable process to:
- Investigate the issue
- Prepare by going deeper, finding partners, joining an established cause, or initiating a new idea
- Act by implementing the ideas
- Reflect as a way to gain deeper and more thoughtful understanding
- Demonstrate, tell the story—get the word out about what was both learned and accomplished in service
Keep in mind that the key to service learning is making authentic academic connections. At whatever grade and whatever subject, we can make these connections. Consider these ideas generated by teachers.
For English, humanities, or language arts, select books with a storyline that involves a child experiencing hunger. Even Harry Potter experienced malnourishment in the home of his Muggle family. There are classics like Oliver Twist and contemporary books like Soul Moon Soup by Lindsey Lee Johnson, a story in prose poetry of a girl living on the streets. Money Hungry by Sharon Draper is a compelling book of a girl determined to keep her family from having to live in a shelter again.
With social studies, almost every topic has a hunger connection. Examining events such as the Irish Potato Famine, any war at all, immigration, or systemic poverty can lead to ideas for response in meaningful ways.
Science affords more curriculum links than can be mentioned! We can look at environmental calamities, whether caused by nature or our society, and see how hunger can be the result. Any class on body science can gain from the perspective of how hunger impacts our mental and physical health and strength. With the increasing value put on school gardens at all school levels, students can assist local food banks that often struggle for fresh produce.
Math ties in in many ways, too. Have young children count, stack, and sort collected food to donate. Or have students pool their quarters brought from home to go to the market and shop for nutritious items to contribute. Using math to plot the school garden, using statistics to compare local hunger demographics to national and international trends, or reviewing the budgetary needs of a food distribution center = bringing math to life.
What is appropriate action? When presenting to teachers around the world, and in my book The Complete Guide to Service Learning, I describe four ways to take action. I recommend, as much as possible, guiding students to brainstorm ideas that fall into every category:
Direct Service has students serving food, perhaps that they prepared, to people in collaboration with an organization.
Indirect Service may involve improving the website of a local food bank so it is more effective at communicating its message and its need to the larger community.
Advocacy may look like a series of public service announcements to inform, educate, and create a call to action to meet short- and long-term local needs. Advocacy can also be aimed at influencing or shaping policy, something even very young children can do.
Research directed toward providing useful information for a community agency, a city government, or schools elevates the work students might simply do to meet a grade requirement, and transforms it into a personal connection with the content.
All of these types of service have tremendous value. However, be aware that only doing indirect service can, over time, lead students to think that keeping the issue (and people) at arm’s length is acceptable. And doing a food drive for a competition is also a lose-lose premise: students focus on winning rather than the underlying issue of hunger, and the receiving agencies have to go through and discard volumes of cans that are inappropriate or outdated.
One more note. Keep in mind the language we use also communicates our underlying thoughts. If we describe people as “the hungry” or “the homeless,” we are missing that they are people first and foremost. By using more respectful descriptors such as “people who are hungry,” we make clear that it’s the circumstance we are describing, not the individuals.
Hunger Action Month does provide a critical reminder to consider what is most important in relationship with others. Our basic needs can be met. We have the food. What we need most is awareness and young people who are engaged and inspired to the call to action. With service learning, we strengthen their resolve and empower them to build communities of caring and response-ability.
Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A., president of CBK Associates, International Education Consultants, provides program development and highly engaging professional development and keynote addresses on service learning, 21st century competencies, literacy, engaged teaching, school climate and culture, and integrating Common Core State Standards. Cathryn is the author of The Complete Guide to Service Learning: Proven, Practical Ways to Engage Students in Civic Responsibility, Academic Curriculum, & Social Action and two books with Philippe Cousteau and EarthEcho International, Going Blue: A Teen Guide to Saving Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, & Wetlands and Make a Splash! A Kid’s Guide to Protecting Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, & Wetlands. Learn more about Cathryn at www.cbkassociates.com. She can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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