Community Service: IPR Global Citizenship Class Reads to Minneapolis Elementary Students

Planning & Preparation

Written by Jose Rodriguez, APE

Global Citizenship perform community service. Student Erika reads as Jose looks on.
Erika reads as Jose looks on. Photo by Joe Hegle

Every quarter at IPR there is a group fortunate enough to take Global Citizenship with instructor Portia Heller. In conjunction with several enlightening topics and conversations, the students in Global Citizenship are required to perform an act of kindness, more commonly referred to as community service.

As a class, we pondered for about a week on what we would like to do for our community service project. Topics that were brought to the table included: feeding the homeless, clothes donations and visiting a domestic violence shelter. In the end, however, we were presented with an opportunity we could not pass up… we decided to go to Hennepin Elementary School in Minneapolis and read to a group of their first graders.

We were in frequent contact with the assistant director of the school and a few of their first-grade teachers as the day approached to read to the little ones. We wondered which books we should read, reminiscing on our own childhoods and the books that were read to us. We also discussed which time and date would work best and how many of us would be attending. Through all of the small challenges, we never doubted that we had a great opportunity on our hands in reading to the “youth of our nation.” The ones who will one day enter what we as humans later call, “the real world.” The ones who will one day have their own opportunities to make a difference in the world.

The Process of Community Service

Written by Erica Estes, DVMP

The morning air was filled with molasses-like anticipation as we gathered to anxiously make our way the Hennepin Elementary School. We held our handpicked books firmly to keep them from escaping our clutches during the bumpy car ride. The books we brought were packed with knowledge of culture and healthy morals. It sounds silly, but walking through the front door of the school, I felt as if we were filled with more excitement than the kids were.

From the moment we entered the doors, the time seemed to crawl as we proceeded to sign in and meet with the school’s Assistant Director, Dr. Kandil. As we entered the first-grade classrooms, the childrens’ eyes glimmered with curiosity and wonder. The rooms held a warm and welcoming atmosphere as the kids sat in a congregated group at our knees. The teachers were very welcoming, and they introduced us to the children as if we were lifelong friends.

As we decided who would read first, we played rock-paper-scissors while the kids gave us their input on who would become the reading victor. First, Jose read “The Giving Tree as the children sat and listened – chiming in to tell about how they liked apples and trees too. As the stories peeled off the pages and into our imaginations, we all began to wonder what the next page held in store for our protagonist, the tree. At the end, we learned that no matter how many apples, branches, and even trunks we lose, that we are all happy with just a little companionship.

It was then my turn to read. I had picked a book that I had grown up with in my Native American Lakota Sioux culture. The book is called “Iktomi “(the trickster) and “The Buzzard.” This book displayed pieces of Native American history with cultural events such as ‘pow wows,’ ‘regalia,’ and even a few Lakota words. We learned that cheaters never win and that we should treat one another with the best intentions instead of misleading others as Iktomi had done to the generous buzzard. However, when we asked the kids what they thought Iktomi would do next, they kept a very optimistic hope for Iktomi by saying,“I think he will learn and make it to the pow wow next time.”

We found that our time with these kids was coming to an end all too soon as all had duties to finish for our own school day. Although before we left, we had these respectful and bright kids sign our book, “The Giving Tree,” to be kept as a memento of the day we read to some of the greatest first-grade students ever.

Do It Again?

Written by Ian Ayala, APE

While most people think, as we originally did, that community service has to be helping the homeless, volunteering to pick up trash, etc., sometimes the less conventional ideas work the best. You couldn’t have made those kids more excited if you had filled them with Pixie Stix, given them a Mountain Dew Kickstart, or sat them in the front row of a Metallica concert. Without a doubt, this made their week, and it definitely made ours.

While our Global Citizenship class could have gone and packaged food to be shipped to Africa, we may not have learned as much as we did from those children. It occurred to me, having grown up in rural Iowa, that some of these kids wouldn’t have survived growing up in my hometown. If you had seen a girl wearing a hijab in a small town Iowa school, it would have been the end of the world to some of the families living there.

But there I was reading to these children, and they were the same as everyone else. I had no reason to resent them. In fact, I absolutely loved their company, but that wouldn’t have changed anything in the minds of some of the people I grew up around. The moment I realized this, the reality of this country came crashing down.

Of course, not everyone learned the same thing, but even if one person can learn what I learned from going to read to some first graders to brighten up their day, this whole project was absolutely worth it. Should a group go to read to the children at Hennepin Elementary again? Absolutely. After all, the best way to learn is to teach.