Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Bridges – A new program for 5th graders at Seabury aims to create leaders, citizens

A student in Seabury’s fifth grade is hoping to plan a service project to help Tacoma Community House, which has a department that provides services for immigrants.

“My mom and dad are citizens now, but they were originally immigrants,” he says.”

Another fifth grader’s intentions will come as no surprise to anyone who’s known the animal lover for more than five minutes.

“I want to help the humane society,” she says. “But first I’m going to ask them what they need the most. Like if they need more dog food, I’ll do a big drive for dog food. If they need blankets, I’ll do a big drive for that.”

These ideas aren’t coming out of nowhere. They are the beginnings of culminating projects required for the fifth graders at Seabury School. These fifth graders have been the beneficiaries of Bridges, an innovative program the school introduced this year.

Our downtown middle school was founded on the belief that intellectually advanced students learn and grow most deeply when they are engaged in projects that are relevant, engaging, challenging and meaningful. Hence, the community is our classroom.

Bridges – in its pilot year – takes off on what our middle school has so successfully nurtured. Designed to be a transition from elementary to middle school, Bridges aims to give our fifth graders something that researchers have found missing in education today  – civics education that teaches young people how to become vital members of society.

The fifth graders and their teachers take the Seabury bus downtown on Thursdays. With the middle school campus as their base, they head out each week to learn about the people and organizations that make our city and community work.

In the fall, they visited police headquarters, met with a Tacoma city councilman, interviewed the director of Tacoma’s farmers markets, toured the bustling Pierce County Election
headquarters just a few days before Nov. 8 – and more.

If you ask the kids which visits made an impression, the answers aren't always what you'd expect.

"The Economic Development Department," a fifth grade girl says. "We found out what kind of buildings they want to build. They want to make a place with apartments for artists to live in and charge them smaller rent. That appeals to me because I'm planning to be an artist and they don't always make a lot of money."

Sometimes, the lessons are exactly what Seabury is going for.

"I see what's going on in the community – and I see I can make a difference," says a fifth grade boy.

As they learn from community leaders, fifth graders get opportunities throughout the year to develop their leadership skills and to become more independent. They run the school store, an enterprise that involves ordering inventory, managing operations and accounting for sales. They mentor younger students throughout the year, helping with STEAM projects, buddy reading and partnering during other classroom activities and field trips.

After winter break, they turned their attentions in the community to nonprofits and community-nonprofit partnerships. Their visits included the Tacoma-Pierce County Humane Society, Multicare, Center for Urban Waters, and they helped out at Tacoma Rescue Mission and FISH Food Bank. They also heard from the director of the YWCA. And last week, Pierce County Council member Connie Ladenburg talked with the students about advocacy.

Now the students will research a nonprofit and create an action plan for a community service project.  They will speak to people in the organization they choose to help and those directly impacted by their service project. They will find statistics about the organization and the number who benefit from it. Once they’ve done the research, they will put together a presentation (video, PowerPoint, Prezi are possibilities) to be presented to the Seabury community – and to people outside of the school, asking for donations. They will present their donations to the organization and write thank you notes to contributors. Then they’ll decide if their presentation is something that should be presented to a government official for additional support.

Along with this awesome preparation for becoming successful middle school students, leaders – and citizens, BRIDGES, is integrated into everything else that makes a Seabury education just right for gifted kids. Combined, it’s unlike anything bright fifth graders can get anywhere in the state – maybe anywhere, period.

The pilot year has gone so well that we are making Bridges a permanent part of Seabury's curriculum sequence. You can find more information on the Bridges page on our website. You can also email us if you have questions or if you would you like your fourth grader to experience a Thursday downtown with our fifth graders. And note – We are offering additional non need-based financial aid for the 2017-18 Bridges school year!

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