Last Friday, the O’Maley Innovation Middle School held its first community “Day of Service.”
This was a day designed for O’Maley students to go out into the community for the purpose of volunteering their efforts in a variety of ways, from doing cleanup at historical cemeteries and museums to helping out senior citizens however they could. Overall, staff and students went out into the community with the intention of bringing together their collective efforts to give back to Gloucester.
The actual name of the program for this day of service is the “First Annual O’Maley Gives Back.” This day of service is part of the school’s SAILS initiative, which is its primary and major character education program.
The SAILS program is now in its second year. The acronym stands for Service, Acceptance, Integrity, Leadership, and Success. Students spent part of the O’Maley Gives Back day “out in the field” and then they returned to school to complete an academic assignment about their experience. As a springboard to the writing, students discussed “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein, a book and movie about a relationship between a young boy and a tree, and about the sacrifices that we sometimes make for one another.
But, with respect to giving, we really should let the students speak for themselves. The following statements are taken from student responses to a writing prompt they worked on after they returned to school.
“I knew it was service because I was doing something not for my own gain. I knew it was integrity because I was doing something that not many people would do on their own. I knew it was leadership because it takes a leader to do the right thing or something nobody else likes to do. I knew it was success because I felt successful.”
“Thanks to this school, I am becoming a better person. I will never forget this wonderful experience.”
“We all pretty much worked together and nobody complained, ‘I’m tired’ or ‘This is boring.’ We just all worked.”
“Sometimes, you have to give things up to be happy and make others happy. Like I did by giving up my time and cleaning (which made me feel happy for helping). Just like the tree (”The Giving Tree”) gave up her leaves, apples, branches and trunk to make herself and the boy happy.”
“I was happy because I was helping out the school and the environment. The tree (”The Giving Tree”) also felt happy in the story because she was helping the boy throughout his life.”
“After watching ‘The Giving Tree,’ I realized our day of service was very similar. I compared the community to the tree, always supporting our school with fundraisers. While it may not seem as if we ‘gave back’ to the community itself, the sixth grade, like the boy, let the tree (community) know that its gifts were appreciated by taking care of what it already had.”
“People should see how we are. We are accepted. I felt proud of the community. This is my first week in [this] school and I can say this school knows how to help a new kid.”
“Service is a huge part of SAILS. Service can help anyone no matter how large or small it is. It can always help. Take Service seriously and help the planet.”
“The students tried so hard to make O’Maley and the City of Gloucester a better and cleaner place that is a safer environment for people, plants and animals to live in. Cleaning up was a fun way of giving back to the environment.”
“My teachers made me feel acceptance because they kept saying ‘Thank you for helping. You really did a fantastic job.’”
I would say that these student responses are right on target, and to paraphrase an old song, that they have learned their lessons well.
Richard Safier is superintendent of the Gloucester Public Schools.