By Dr. Steven W. Sinmpson

Altruism as a learning objective may not rate highly in the brave new world of standardized testing and No Child Left Behind federal law, but some of the greatest accomplishments by former students I have taught have been their required community service projects.

My grading system typically includes 10% for community service. I let the kids figure out what they want to do as long as their project meets the definition of altruism. They write the proposal, get the idea approved through channels, and then I help as needed. Here's an example,. one of my favorite community service projects was "Seeds of Literacy." This project grew out of a newspaper article we read concerning the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP). This program is designed to help prepare young children for success in school. ECEAP children participate in preschool experiences that help their language development, cognitive and motor skills development.

In our small town each year there is a carnival, a dance, a 10K run and a huge parade. Almost everyone in town comes out to watch the parade. That was our target. Sell something to the crowds watching the parade, make some money, and give it to ECEAP. Who would have guessed pumpkin seeds?

Someone heard that roasting pumpkin seeds in the oven with a little seasoning made a delicious treat. (They were right!) While we were talking about that, someone else came up with the snappy name, "Seeds of Literacy." We could buy the seeds at a good price, roast them in the school ovens at night, put them in little plastic bags with our home-made labels and sell them to the hungry crowds on Saturday. It worked perfectly.

We decorated a car for the parade with signs urging the crowd to buy Seeds of Literacy and help generate money to teach children to read. They did. We sold all of our seeds and many wagon loads of bottled water. We made over $650 in profit that afternoon. When our class presented the check to ECEAP administrators, the newspaper was there to take our picture. The kids learned a variety of lessons with this project, all of them good ones. This is the way community service works. The students use classroom skills such as reading, writing, listening, speaking and thinking, just as they do with more traditional assignments. But they get an added real-world experience that stays with them. They get out of the classroom, deal with real people and real problems, and become better human beings in the process.

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