Service Learning in the Elementary School

Article by: Sarah Kim

“You have the right not to do dangerous labor [as a child] but trash picking violates that right all the way.” These are the words spoken by an elementary school student from ISM.  Elementary school students have recently completed a unit studying child labor, getting to know what it is and how it should be treated. The young students were told to collect various items of trash inside a big plastic bag over the course of 3 weeks. Then they “dumped” everything that was inside the plastic bag into the sandbox, and were told to clean up and organize the different kinds of trash that were inside the sandbox. The kids were told that they could not wear socks or shoes, to closely imitate what the average child trash picker would experience each day.

Plainly speaking, the kids were told to become trash pickers for the day, and many had different opinions about the experience. The students were not used to this kind of situation, and “would not recommend going in there without a nose clip” due to the stench that permeated through the grains inside the sandbox. After the role play, the students had a lot to say about this endemic problem.

“The smell isn’t the most important thing. It’s the danger,” exclaimed a young man who knew exactly what he was talking about. “We had to try not to cut our feet by stepping on sharp objects,”  he added, with a concerned voice. He, along with a score of other students who were involved with this important unit, thought that child labor was a big problem which had to be fixed. A pundit mentioned that “not all of us are treated equally, we are equal, but we aren’t always treated equally…[it is] really important to empathise with the trash pickers because they are the same age as us.” This brings out a very important point that even adults have a hard time dealing with.

As ISM is known for its strong service learning programs in the middle and high schools, the increase in awareness within a small elementary school student will affect the collective mindset in a more positive way, raising consciousness and reflective thinking about service. It is absolutely wonderful that the recognition of service is spreading, even to the youngest members of our community.

Special Thanks to John Hadaway for his input with the interview.

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