Students learn about homelessness

With “Planting the Seed,” TOPS eighth-graders learn about homelessness – and about themselves
Posted on 02/19/2015
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During one week in February, eighth-graders from TOPS K-8 work with and for people experiencing homelessness and others in need. They sort fresh vegetables into bags at the Rainier Valley Food Bank. They serve coffee and doughnuts at the St. Francis House. They prepare food for and serve residents of the Compass Center. They make meals-to-go for Operation Sack Lunch.

This was the eighth year of the Planting the Seeds service-learning experience at TOPS. Planting the Seeds was created by Lori Eickelberg, who teaches seventh- and eighth-grade Language Arts.

Beyond helping those in need, Eickelberg wanted to give eighth-graders a chance to stretch in their relationship with peers, become more acquainted with the city and, in the words of the TOPS Mission Statement, “to understand and honor diversity, to respect and care for themselves and others, to be responsible.”

“Planting the Seeds is a great example of a shared commitment to our students,” Eickelberg said. “None of what happens in this project would be possible without the help and support of the total TOPS community.”

Planting the Seeds is a round-the-clock commitment. Students were divided into groups, and over the course of three days, each group did service at six or seven agencies that serve the homeless and the urban poor. A typical day included breakfast, walk or bus to an agency, service at the agency,  lunch, walk or bus to an agency, service at the agency, walk or bus to their night spot, dinner and bed.

“Students walked, packed apples, made cookies, cut up chicken, cooked lunch and dinner, painted nails, folded newsletters, hosted a bingo party, made welcome baskets, sorted socks and scrubbed mats,” Eickelberg said.

On the fourth day, after their return to TOPS, the youth participated in a debriefing where, among other things, students were asked how they felt about the experience.

“I feel awesome that I was out there helping people with whatever they needed,” one student wrote.

Another student had this to say: “I really loved participating in the program. I felt like I really got closer to the people in my group, and I loved meeting new people, learning their stories and helping them out. It was a lot of fun. I wish I could do it again.”

student serving donutsStudents also were asked what they wanted others to know about homelessness in Seattle or about people who are homeless. One example:

One thing that I want others to know about homelessness in Seattle or about people who are homeless is that they are just like us. They are human beings just like us. The change between them and us is not that different. It could have been a lost job or an unpaid bill. The scary thing is that this could happen to anyone of us in the future. They are not that different. We are all equals. We should all be treated like equals. Unfortunately, we are not being treated like equals. The homeless are not being heard. They are appreciative of everything that they get because they do not get very much. If we all thought about our actions then we can appreciate what we have and think about how much the homeless people appreciate the little things. Every little thing you do to help them makes a huge difference and helping them is worth fighting for.

If feedback from the students who participated is any indication, they got out of Planting the Seeds what Eickelberg hoped for when she created the program eight years ago: they learned a lot not only about the urban poor, but also about themselves.

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