35: Making a Difference in Our Community

35: Making a Difference in Our Community

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teacher Tales

Making a Difference in Our Community

Maturity begins to grow when you can sense your concern for others outweighing your concern for yourself.

~John MacNaughton

As a teacher, it has been my goal to enable my students to become active and participating citizens in their community, the nation, and the world. Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Throughout the years, my students in a K-8 rural school of about 180 have made great differences in our community. But saving lives was not really on our agenda.

In January the students asked why I was upset, so I sadly told them the story. As the wife of a Marine officer, I had moved fifteen times before settling in Bozeman. I had never had the opportunity to watch children grow up since we moved so frequently. Now that I was settled, I had watched my young neighbor change from a rambunctious eight-year-old to a sophomore in college. While we were at his parents’ home for a Christmas party, there was a phone call stating that he had hit his head while ice skating; it was really nothing, but they were transporting him to the emergency room just in case. That evening he was airlifted to the nearest trauma hospital and died a few days later.

One of my sixth-grade students had been at the rink when the incident happened. The class decided to investigate head injuries. When my students became aware of the dangers of trauma to the heads of children, they did extensive research before deciding that the best solution was a helmet policy that would require all students to wear a helmet if they rode to school on a bike, skateboard, or roller blades. They chose to begin with their immediate community so they testified before the school board and got the policy passed. Then they secured a grant to purchase more than 100 helmets at a reduced rate so they could be sold for $5.00 or given free to students. They stocked the office with extra helmets and had a young man from the bicycle shop fit each helmet properly to the head of the student.

After Spring Break that year, a mother came to our class to tell the students that they had saved her daughter’s life. With tears in her eyes, she said that her children had taken their bikes and new helmets to Grandma’s house. While they were riding their bikes down a hill, her daughter hit a parked car. The emergency room doctor said that wearing the helmet had prevented severe brain damage or death.

In 2006, my sixth graders concluded that our greatest need was a playground for the community. They examined the problem, developed some alternative solutions, chose the best policy, and then testified before the school board. Those twenty sixth-grade students committed themselves for the next three years to make our playground a gathering place for the community and a learning center for Native American Culture. We obtained a Service Learning Grant, and we involved the community.

The result was that the students helped design and construct an eight-sided climbing structure to be used by all ages. After tightening the last bolt in the midst of a spring snowstorm, they were ready to take the next step. They selected and ordered playground equipment, and it arrived over the summer and was installed. We were able to secure another grant, which allowed them to fund their next section, two circuit courses (ages 5-12 and adult) with Native American learning stations. The Montana Conservation Corps helped us with the installation. We also completed the final phase, a running activity, right before their graduation. For their efforts these young students were awarded the Spirit of Service Award in 2008 from the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Throughout the years, my students have become problem solvers and participants in our community. In 2001, my class asked the school board to pass a policy requiring service learning to be part of the curriculum for every student in grades K-8. Little did they know what they were beginning, for the implications for our community have been astounding as our students learn and serve. Some of their accomplishments have been: getting a path along the road to school constructed, changing the lunch program, establishing a track program, introducing the concept of a four-day school week and altering the number of days we attend school, testifying in front of the city council to secure restrooms in the downtown area, asking the county commissioners to abandon a road, demonstrating the need to install early warning and safety measures at a local dam, testifying about the need for a new jail before the crime board, and persuading the school board to create a breakfast program.

Each of these ideas was selected, researched, and presented by the students. My role was that of facilitator. In September 2008, Gallatin County accepted a $267,206 grant from the Department of Homeland Security to institute the measures concerning the dam, which my students first brought to their attention in 2006. Yes, I truly believe that eleven- and twelve-year-old students can make a difference as they become empowered and engaged citizens in the community.

~Sally J. Broughton
2009 Montana State Teacher of the Year
Language Arts, Social Studies teacher, grades 6-8

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