Education at The Willow School moves beyond the classroom walls as preschool through eighth grade students demonstrate their understanding of the virtues of compassion, respect, and responsibility through service efforts. While these service projects support local, national, and international interests, Willow’s service learning program is unique in that the projects are integrated into the academic and virtues curricula. Each project compliments the social studies curriculum by addressing an essential question and focusing on a virtue. The faculty and the Service Learning Coordinator strive to incorporate best practices such as student voice, sustainability, diversity, and reflection. Students help to raise awareness about issues, fundraise, and make real life connections, empowering them as they effect positive change.
Preschool- Fostering Connections
Question: How do we care for our school family?
The preschool service learning project incorporates the social studies concepts of caring for our classroom and family, and the virtue of gratitude. Using the preschool garden plot, students plant a variety of bulbs. Simple math concepts of spacing and counting are woven into a hands-on lesson in the garden. In order to nurture and care for the bulbs, students learn the science of growing habits and observe the bulbs as they rise above the soil. Once the blooms open, the children cut the flowers and arrange bouquets for their families and the faculty and staff of the school. The students create and dictate a message of thanks that teachers transcribe for them onto handmade cards that the children deliver to express their gratitude. Finally, the students reflect on the feelings of caring, giving, and gratitude as they create a poster called “Feelings of Caring”.
Kindergarten- Understanding Our Role
Question: What is our responsibility to the Earth?
The kindergarten is deeply engaged in the examination of the self and answering the essential question, “Who am I?” As the children become aware of themselves as individuals, they also come to recognize themselves in the context of their classroom and the greater school community. Answering questions about responsibility helps them come to see themselves as virtuous members of a community, members who need to exhibit respect and responsibility.
The connection between community and responsibility is established through learning about garbage, the concept of throwing something “away”, landfills, and recycling. Kindergarteners demonstrate responsibility towards their environment by collecting used bottle caps and diverting this waste to the Aveda Corporation for recycling. This exercise encourages recycling while helping students to understand how to reduce their impact on the environment.
First Grade- Community in the Woods/From One Child to Another
Question: What is a community?
The first grade learns about community through an examination of the classroom, the whole school, and finally the town. In the town community unit, the children seek answers to questions that are essential to the social studies curriculum:
What is a community?
What are some of the roles and responsibilities of community members?
What makes a community successful?
As students pursue answers to these questions, they visit and interview various community workers throughout Peapack and Gladstone. The students come to understand how the organizations of the town help and support people in the community and that all people have similar, basic needs and wants.
The first grade students also visit Homeless Solutions, a non-profit organization based in Morristown, N.J., that offers shelter, service, and supportive housing to homeless and low-income individuals. This visit provides an opportunity to discuss what responsibilities the members of a community assume for those people in need of support.
Students participate in various collaborative projects to deepen their understanding of the importance of money, banking, food, retail and service businesses, laws, citizenship, and government planning. These investigations prepare them to build a community in the woods in which the children assume the roles of various members of the community and construct a town on campus. There are opportunities for the school community to purchase arts and crafts, books, food, and beverages and the funds raised through this project are donated to Homeless Solutions.
Second graders obtain first-hand knowledge of the past from elders in our community by visiting a local nursing home. In preparation for this visit, the students are asked to ponder the following questions:
How do we define respect?
How do we express respect?
What does respect look like?
After creating interview questions, each student meets with his or her assigned elder and documents the encounter. While learning about the past, students perform a valuable service: providing company, conversation, and an opportunity for their elders to impact the next generation. During the final gathering, students share their reflections and give a portrait they have created to their elder in celebration of the value of intergenerational relationships.
Third Grade – Welcoming Cultures of Origin as We Form Our Nation
Question: How does our heritage affect our lives today?
The third grade social studies curriculum revolves around the theme of people moving from place to place and the impact of their movement. Looking at both voluntary and forced movement in our country’s history, students learn about the American colonists, African slaves, Lewis and Clark and the Westward Expansion, Native Americans, and European immigrants of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Studying our history raises questions about immigration in the 21st century:
Why do immigrants leave their native lands to come to the United States now?
What is it like for people who come here and how does immigrating change them?
How do modern day immigrants impact our world?
For the third grade service learning project, Willow partners with the Neighborhood House, a local non-profit organization whose mission is to promote community stability and economic growth by helping immigrant families transition into their new communities. In the spirit of generosity children share a cultural exchange through pen-pal relationships and mutually enriching visits. When the students from the Neighborhood House visit Willow, they share in the reading of literature on the topic of immigration, discuss their pen-pal letters, play in the recess woods, and tour the school garden. When Willow students visit the Neighborhood House, the teachers and students share their program, facility, and engage in a healthy eating habit project. Third graders learn about generosity while sharing their world and gaining a personal awareness of the struggles of those who immigrate.
Fourth Grade- Be a Part of the Solution
Question: What influences a world view?
The fourth grade is engaged in an active pursuit of knowledge of world indigenous cultures. Through discussion, literature, and research, students begin to understand the issues and challenges of those who live in less developed countries like Africa. Poverty, climate change, land rights, and population growth are studied as fourth graders expand their understanding of the challenges that face self- determination. Students are charged to become problem solvers as they create hypothetical solutions to improve the quality of life for those living in Africa.
Through participation in the iLEARN project, Finding Solutions to Hunger, fourth graders actively seek to educate themselves and others about the real underlying causes of hunger around the world. Students organize the Be a Part of the Solution Fair, a fundraising event that provides information about poverty in Africa while raising money for Heifer International and Growing Hearts of Africa.
Fifth Grade- All Things are Possible with Water
Question: How does access to clean water affect the world as an interconnected system?
In fifth grade, students investigate the components of complex human settlements. Studying ancient cultures encourages them to examine what influences a worldview. To immerse themselves in ancient civilizations, students explore mythology, art, architecture, literature, spiritual beliefs, morals, and social and political structures. Focusing on the importance of water, a civilization’s infrastructure is discussed from a societal and an engineering perspective. The students learn that access to clean water is an essential and pivotal component of a successful society. Studies shift from an ancient perspective to present day water issues. Currently, one in eight people on our planet do not have access to clean drinking water. Unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation cause 80% of disease and result in 42,000 deaths every week. In many cultures where clean drinking water is not readily available, women and children are responsible for collecting water that is unfit to drink, often walking miles through dangerous areas.
Fifth graders design and execute a water demonstration. They create educational and inspirational presentations that inform others on the challenges facing societies that do not have easy access to clean drinking water. Issues such as personal safety, illness, disease, education, and sanitation are addressed as students teach and share ways to conserve water and express their newfound appreciation for the easy access to water available in the United States. The fifth grade raises funds for a non-profit organization called charity:water. In 2012, charity:water raised $33 million and funded more than 2,000 water projects, providing clean water for more than 700,000 people around the world. The fifth grade goal is to fund a water project through charity;water and thus improve the health and quality of life of an entire community by providing it with easily accessible, clean water.
The Middle School service committees provide students with opportunities to serve the needs of the school community under the guidance of a faculty/administrator sponsor. The aim of the committee class is to foster a student’s sense of ethical leadership and to help them understand the process for effecting change. Students identify ways to work together to make a difference by collaborating, researching, setting goals, and managing projects. Committees meet once every six-day rotation.
Green Team Committee educates visitors about the school’s buildings and the sustainable operations on campus. While encouraging efforts towards our zero waste goal, members of this committee are responsible for the TerraCycle project. During this project, students collect common, non-recyclable items in an effort to reduce waste and keep waste out of landfills. Green Team Committee guides educate the school community and visitors about how the campus itself supports Willow’s philosophy of sustainability. By way of their work on this committee, students enrich their knowledge of data collection, public speaking, and sustainable operations.
Year Book Committee celebrates and documents the joy of learning that occurs in Willow’s rich school culture. Members create and publish The Willow School Yearbook, thereby learning about photography, graphic design, and publishing
Garden to Table Committee supports the planning, planting, maintenance, and harvesting of our growing school garden. Members meet with faculty to determine support needs and plan and execute a giving garden. By way of their work on this committee students learn about sustainable gardening practices, seasonal NJ crops, and general gardening skills.
Willow Gazette Committee reinforces the school’s commitment to the mastery of the English language by producing a newsletter, which highlights Willow’s culture through articles, art, and photos. The Willow Gazette strives to provide information and entertainment. Committee members conduct interviews, design layouts, edit, and publish three newsletters per year.
Environmental Film Committee provides inspiration and education on environmental issues through film. The films are shown on Earth Day. By way of their work on this committee, students learn about the environmental film industry, the jury selection process, and the components of hosting a film festival.
Youth Council supports the Community Soup Kitchen in Morristown, NJ. Committee members volunteer in the soup kitchen’s facility and hold an annual fundraiser for the organization.
Each year, Middle School students are challenged to propose, design, and execute an independent service-learning project. Students make all arrangements with the support of their advisor. Parents review and approve the proposal and also provide supervision and transportation for their child. The project is broken into six phases:
I) Orientation/Introduction- At Back to School Night, parents are given a brief overview of the program. At Middle School Information Night, students and parents are given an overview of the school’s expectations for the project, including a timeline.
II) Research/Brainstorm- In October during advisory, students begin to form ideas for a project based on their individual interests. They begin to work on a form that helps them to brainstorm about their project. This form is submitted in early January.
III) Student Participation/Proposal- In January during advisory, students begin to formalize their project proposal. They submit a draft of their proposal by mid-February. One week later, proposals are returned with comments and suggestions. Revisions based on this feedback are made and a parent signature is secured. The final Independent Service Learning Project Proposal Form is due by early March.
IV) Execution/Service Goals- Upon project approval by their advisor, the students complete at least one 2-hour session volunteering for their chosen organization. Students are responsible for completing the Execution/Service Goals Form, which documents their service and includes an evaluation from the organization. This form is due in early March.
V) Reflection/Multi Media Presentation- After the service work is complete, students begin developing their multimedia presentations, following the reflection and multimedia presentation guidelines and rubric. Presentations are reviewed in early April. Rubrics are used to document comments and make suggestions for editing. Final edits are completed in time for Earth Day.
VI) Celebration/Evaluation- On Earth Day, students give a multimedia presentation of their project, answer questions, and receive both positive and constructive feedback. Advisors complete final rubrics.
On April 22, also known as Earth Day, a variety of activities are planned to enhance students’ understanding, awareness, and appreciation for the Earth and the need to protect it. These Earth Day projects reinforce our virtues program, particularly the virtues of responsibility, respect, gratitude, service, compassion, wisdom, and joy and wonder.
With Willow’s daily focus on the environment, Earth Day requires something above and beyond. On this special day, each grade undertakes a project that provides a service to the environment. Younger students help on campus while older students work within the wider Willow community. The environmental projects coordinate with each grade’s science curriculum, deepening the children’s understanding of the interaction between water pollution and the land.
Harvest Soup Day
Just before Thanksgiving, The Willow School enjoys a tradition that involves sharing the bounty of our garden with the entire school community. Parents, faculty, students, and staff all come together to harvest, prepare, and assemble a harvest soup. With coordination assistance from P.A. volunteers, everyone participates as ingredients are added to the stock pot, which is tended all day over an open fire. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, the Willow community enjoys the harvest soup meal.