The Philanthropy Project


Mount Blue Middle School

When middle school educators and students find meaning in work it is so magical! As I sat at the MAMLE awards presentations at the fall conference at Sugarloaf recently I felt the urge to be back in the classroom. I miss those moments that are filled with energy, life, and bring out the best in all involved, students and adults. It is the work that young adolescents do when they have the opportunity to lead, contribute their creative ideas, and work collaboratively that are often the ones that form who they are and last forever. This intense feeling came on for me as I listened to the work taking place at Mount Blue Middle School. Below is a description of The Philanthropy Project.

Joel Smith, Maureen Oswald, Jayne Flagg, and Mark Simpson

The Philanthropy Project idea came about slowly and then took on a life of its own. Ninety-five students began their 7th grade year as ordinary, “I am a dot in this world? typical adolescents. As teachers noticed common courtesy had taken a back seat in our society, we encouraged them to ramp it up a notch. We discussed manners and practiced them, first in the classroom and then in the halls with simple phrases like “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me”, etc. We then took that to the hallways, adding other elements such as introductions, handshakes, and using a person’s name to address them when they said “good morning” (especially teachers). They began to get feedback from the staff in our building, who remarked frequently about what a polite, happy group of kids we had. We were all beaming.

As a small independent project, we purchased class journals and each class tried to fill their journals with random acts of kindness they h ad performed or witnessed. This became a daily check-in. Their parents were noticing, and some got in on it. We watched “Pay It Forward”. They were enthralled. They created goals (read to younger child, visit an elderly person, rake a lawn, take food to the animal or local food bank). We watched them unfold by the end of their 7th grade year.

By eighth grade, they were itching for more. This is when the idea for a Philanthropy Project truly sprang. Colleagues agreed to head up a focus group, each with a different theme. We had soldiers in Afghanistan/Iraq, The Less Fortunate, The Elderly, and Animals. Students met with the group they chose and brainstormed ideas concerning how to give of themselves to improve the lives of others. The animal shelter saw dozens of kids come in to not only bring items they collected, but also to spend time int he kitten room and outside walking energetic, appreciative dogs. We ended up with boxes upon boxes of collected items sent to Yap for needy children, our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan received care packages and letters, the food bank was filled, and my favorite was a huge “senior social” we put on in our cafeteria for local retirees and nursing home residents, where we provided a DJ and enough food to feed an army, but most importantly where these citizens got to know our students and relationships developed.

The Exemplary Practice Awards are presented to individuals, teams, and schools across the state of Maine who are incorporating “best practices” into their curriculum and instruction, and whose educational practices exemplify excellent middle level education. Please consider nominating middle level educators for this award. You can learn more about the application process at the MAMLE website


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One Response to “The Philanthropy Project”

  1. Catherine Ring Says:

    Learning and practicing simple greetings and manners is so important, and vastly underestimated. I will never forget the respectful greetings I received when I visited Falmouth High School many months ago. Several high school students said hello and opened doors for me. That may seem simple, but it’s not, and it obviously made a lasting impression. Teaching these skills is critical, and that’s why I’m a fan of Responsive Classroom. I love the further extension to philanthropic projects. Thanks. Made my day. 🙂

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