When a group of Tamaques parents checked off the volunteer box next to the little-known Service Learning Committee, they weren't taking the commitment lightly.
The five Tamaques mothers of the committee, Kate Virmani (chair), Katie Spikes, Maria Broaddus, Jodi Wallin and Lauren Politi, had a vision that their committee would lay the foundation for responsible citizenship throughout the student body at Tamaques, with the goals of teaching the values of global kindness, respect and empathy. Ambitious as it seemed, theses goals, backed wholeheartedly by Principal Duelks and Tamaques staff, were exceeded during the month of February.
In a month-long effort, the committee teamed Tamaques up with Heifer International, a global charity focused on ending poverty and hunger by providing communities with resources to be self-reliant . Heifer's helps bring sustainable agriculture and commerce to areas with a long history of poverty by providing them with animals that provide both food and sustainable income. These animals help break the cycle of poverty.
After an initial school-wide launch assembly with Heifer International, each class was asked to choose an animal to raise money to buy – such as chicks, cows, sheep and even honeybees. Money was raised with saved allowances and by getting paid to do extra chores at home. A competition was set between classes based on the amount of money raised, which boosted enthusiasm for the program. The fund-raising became infectious, with staff getting involved. Kathleen Fisher, administrative staff at Tamaques, rallied friends in the US Army, who promptly delivered funds for a cow. The nature of the program seemed to come alive, "It was contagious," enthusiastically noted chair Kate Virmani, "The student's level of engagement was phenomenal...they were motivated towards the monetary goals to buy their classroom animal, but more than that, they understood how fortunate they are. They genuinely grasped how working together, they could make a real difference.”
Over the month, the Tamaques committee and teachers were able to weave the program and its underlying values into the curriculum. Teachers used the coins collected to illustrate math lessons, and reviewed the disparity between world population and food availability in social studies. Through hands-on classroom sessions with Heifer representatives, headed by Laura Berzofsky, Tamaques students had opportunities to learn more about how other children live and were able to start to further appreciate how life in these communities is quite different than that of in Westfield. Indeed, many students were shocked to learn for example, that school is a luxury for many of these children.
There was one unexpected roadblock. As the program succeeded, volunteers found the task of counting the considerable spare change insurmountable. After explaining the program to Nony Eboh, Branch Manager at Valley National Bank on Central Avenue, Ms. Eboh embodied the spirit of paying it forward by agreeing to process the collections without charge.
While the goal was to generate sufficient funding for 15 animals, at the end of the month, Tamaques had doubled its goals, raising enough for 30 animals to be sent to poverty-stricken communities around the world. The total funds raised exceeded $3,000. Additionally, one Tamaques family has anonymously donated $2000 to the effort, bringing the total to over $5,000.
Principal Duelks noted, "This committee's drive brought out the best of Tamaques. It gave us all the opportunity to work towards a collective goal and deliver a tangible result for the larger global community, all while teaching the students an invaluable lifelong lesson."