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At Lawrenceville Elementary School in central New Jersey, the CARE Kids are famous. The CARE (Children Acting Responsibly Everyday) program started two decades ago when a group of students wanted to do more for their community. It has since grown into a schoolwide program in which all third graders spend the year leading the school’s community service projects.
“Our CARE Kids, our third graders, are really our ambassadors of service learning,” says school counselor Melissa Wall, who coordinates the program. CARE Kids take on six to seven projects during the school year, from food and clothing drives to autism awareness activities to creating cards for local seniors. Each project starts with a read-aloud: Small groups of CARE Kids visit the younger grades, read a related story to them, and then do a short pitch about how students and families can participate.
“I think it really is a benefit for our younger students to hear from our older students,” says Wall. “They listen to their teachers and their parents all day long. But to hear something from someone who’s just a little bit older than you, who you might look up to as a role model, you know, really has a powerful way of influencing them.”
Teachers incorporate the projects into their classroom activities and make cross-curricular connections (for example, students might do writing assignments related to the book the older students read aloud to them). Third graders also get to incorporate math standards, as they calculate donations and create bar graphs to represent participation.
As a result of the program, CARE Kids graduate from elementary school with a real sense of pride and accomplishment. In addition to the warm and fuzzy feelings they get from supporting their community, CARE Kids gain valuable leadership and public speaking skills for the future.