This past Fall, first grade students at the Milton Bradley Elementary School in Springfield organized a supply drive for animals in need at the Dakin Humane Society.  

This drive was a project-based learning assignment where students focused on community and what it means to be good citizens.  

After identifying the needs of the animals and creating flyers and videos for the fundraiser, students paid a visit to Dakin to hand-deliver the donations. 

Zydalis Bauer spoke with first grade teacher Emma Percival and Principal Kristen Hughes to learn more.  

Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: This past fall, first grade students at the Milton Bradley Elementary School in Springfield organized a supply drive for animals in need at the Dakin Humane Society.

As part of the project, students explored concepts like community and what it means to be a good citizen. After identifying the needs of the animals and creating flyers and videos for the fundraiser, students paid a visit to Dakin to hand-deliver the donations.

I spoke with two of the educators involved to learn more about the project.

Emma Percival, Milton Bradley Elementary School: One of the huge elements of project-based learning is that it’s student centered, so we know as first grade teachers that first graders love animals. And that was kind of where we jumped off from. And we knew we wanted to find a way to incorporate animals into our project. And we decided to focus on our social studies lessons where they learn what being a good citizen is and how to help their communities.

So, we figured the best way to combine all of those ideas was to do a donation drive for our animal shelter.

Zydalis Bauer: And so, tell me a little bit about how Dakin was chosen. How did that process come about?

Emma Percival: So, all of the students in our school are very aware of Dakin because most of them pass it on their way to school and they know exactly where it is. When we showed them the picture and the logo, every single student jumped up because they recognized it, and they were really excited to find out that they could do something to help their community.

Zydalis Bauer: So, Kristen, you mentioned that this assignment covered seven essential components of project-based learning.

Can you elaborate on what those components are?

Kristen Hughes, Milton Bradley Elementary School: Yeah. So, we’re working with a corporation called PBL Works, and their focus on project-based learning is creating a gold standard project, compared to a dessert project where kids learn about something and create a nice poster at the end.

And so, with our project-based learning, we really want students to focus on a challenging problem. It needs to be tied to their current curriculum, so it’s not just something else we’re doing. And it should be done over a sustained — sustained period of time.

So, all of the things that they’re doing throughout this project will lead up to some kind of culmination, but it’s not just about the end product. It’s really about the learning that happens along the way. And throughout the project, they’re critiquing, giving each other feedback on how they can improve certain tasks along the way.

So, they wrote letters, and they made posters. They created their own little kind of infomercials that we played on our morning announcements. And so all along the way, we were incorporating standards and concepts and activities that would then lead up to an end product, but it’s really about the learning that’s taking place of knowing like what would go into a donation drive. It’s not just about, let me bring in a canned good. It was really about them eliciting and getting people to understand the need in our community, the need that the animals had, and then to fruition, making sure that they did get the things that they actually needed, and we weren’t just giving them things that we thought they might need.

And so, the research was involved. They interviewed somebody from Dakin to find out exactly what they need. So, they learned all those things along the way, where it was, you know, communication skills, writing skills, presenting skills, and then learning the words “citizenship,” “donation,” “volunteer.” And then they were actually able to do those things rather than just learn about other people that do them, which had a really lasting impact.

And that’s what we want our project-based learning projects to have, a lasting impact so that they’ll continue to do things to support their community.

Zydalis Bauer: I love that. I love how this this project has included everything from like the basics of writing, communication, teamwork, community. It’s just a lot of different elements and you honestly can never start too young teaching these types of things.

And Emma, I know that part of your social studies unit is community. Tell me why it’s important to include this type of project-based and community-based learning in these early educational years.

Emma Percival: When the students are so young, it’s hard to understand the concept of what community is. And so, we like to start small and kind of build out. So, we start with our classroom community at the beginning of the year and how they can be good citizens within the walls of our classroom. Then, we move out to the walls of the school, and then we keep going further and further.

So, it was really great for them to see that being a good citizen in their community was just helping others or finding a way to do some good. And so, we really built on that idea that starting within the classroom, just showing kindness and being helpful is being a good citizen. And then, we — we got to build it out farther.

And they were really excited to do something that was more than just within their classroom and more than just within their school. I think they really understood the impact that they were making.

Zydalis Bauer: And Kristen, you were talking about all of this leading up to a culmination. And so, part of that culmination was hand-delivering the collected goods to Dakin themselves.

Tell me how that experience was, were students expressing to each other how proud of themselves and each other that they were?

Kristen Hughes, Milton Bradley Elementary School: Yes. And it’s funny because we had a lot of materials and I said, “Oh, you know, one of our staff members has a truck, they can truck everything down.”

And they — the teachers said to me, “Well, the kids really want to deliver it.”

So, they brought in plastic bags and grocery bags, and every single kid filled these bags and just them handing it to them and filling the big cart that they brought out for us really brought it home for them. And they felt so excited to be able to help and so proud and they were even able to see some of the animals.

And so having that connection of them, you know, really doing something to impact their community and bringing it to — to fruition where they were the ones that were doing it, you know, we’re building and creating kids that are going to go out into their community and help in so many different ways, and you know, giving them that intrinsic feeling of actually doing it really made an impact on them and they’re still talking about it.

Zydalis Bauer: Emma, was there anything that you wanted to add?

I know you’re the teacher, so what were some of the moments that stuck with you throughout the duration of this project?

Emma Percival: I think the really special moments were between the students. When we would walk around the room or even at recess, the students wanted to talk about this all the time, and they still do.

They still — we have a — we made a class book about how to be a good citizen, and so it’s in our classroom library. And I included the letter that we received from Dakin after we donated it, and I think it’s been their favorite part of the year. It’s been my favorite part of the year so far, because it was such a big chunk of our learning and we got to incorporate so many different subjects.

And again, it was what the students wanted to do. And so, I think going from that drive of what they want, it made the learning a lot more meaningful for them.

Zydalis Bauer: And this was a school-wide drive that they organized.

What was the response from the other grade levels?

Emma Percival: They were really excited and really supportive of the first graders, which was wonderful to see. They made posters so that we could hang them in the hallways.

And I had other students and previous students of mine that said, “I saw the poster and I can’t wait to bring something in. I’m going to ask Mom and Dad tonight.” And even the other teachers were very supportive.

And so, I think it really brought the whole school together.

Zydalis Bauer: Now, this is some true, grassroots-level organization that you all are showing the students, not just the first grade class, but as you mentioned, even all the grade levels.

What would be the ideal takeaway for all of the students and even parents, teachers, and the community from this project?

Kristen Hughes, Milton Bradley Elementary School: I think that we all have something to — to provide to our community. Not only do we live here, but we can always help make it a better place. And I think Springfield is such a great place to live and we want to show kids the things that about it that are great and then how they can continue to be great. S

o, part of this work came from the Springfield Public Schools Portrait of a Graduate, and we’re part of a team that’s reimagining school. And with working with teachers, we talked about how can we reimagine school for kids to give them more voice and authentic learning and get them out into their community, so that when they do graduate from school, they are ready to be working members of their community. And so, that’s really our outcome of, you know, building these 21st century learners that can grow up and give back.

And the earlier we start talking about what your future will look like, the harder they’re going to work, the more interested they’re going to be, and learning about things that they can do when they — when they grow up. And having them start to do those things now is just going to help get them on that track.