Students at Winfield Unified School District 465 begin learning the importance of civic engagement at an early age – even before kindergarten.
At Whittier Elementary School, there are student-run assemblies where student leaders share what they are doing in the community and the successes they have had. There are Buddy Classes where younger students are paired with older ones, and each grade level does at least two community projects each year.
Examples include going to retirement homes to give residents holiday placemats or present short programs; visiting downtown business owners to thank them; delivering Meals on Wheels each week; and raising money with proceeds going toward Christmas gifts for children in the community, said Nathan Reed, superintendent of Winfield USD 465.
“Connections are being made between the community and the students, which have continued past the school day,” Reed said. “For instance, one of the classes connected with a local nursing home and became pen pals with some of the residents. These letters are continuing to be sent, and my guess is that when the restrictions of COVID pass, some of these relationships will further develop.”
Students who are involved in civic engagement activities have had an increase in attendance and take part in more activities, Reed said.
“At the building level, we see changes in how kids treat each other,” he said. “Once they have the experience of working on civic engagement projects, it gives them a sense of community and how important it is to look out for other people.”
Winfield USD 465 serves 2,181 students and has seven schools within the district. Whittier Elementary School received the Civic Advocacy Network (CAN) award in 2019, and Winfield High School received a CAN award in 2020. Winfield Middle School received a 2020 Promising Practice Award through the program.
The Civic Advocacy Network (CAN) was established by the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) in order to recognize schools that actively involve students in civic engagement opportunities and to help collect exemplary civic engagement practices to share with schools across the state. The ultimate goal of CAN is to promote civic engagement as part of all pre-K-12 students’ experiences.
Winfield USD 465 also received a bronze award in the area of civic engagement in the Kansans Can Star Recognition Program.
Families have joined in and supported their children in civic engagement activities, Reed said. For instance, one school had a food drive competition between classes, and parents took part to help. Community members are getting involved - helping the district organize and build an outdoor classroom.
“We are hearing we need more (civic engagement) – in a positive way,” Reed said. “COVID created a need for us to want to get back in the practice. We have heard nothing but positive comments from the community. Once they realize the schools are helping out in the community, it inspires patrons to volunteer and give back to the schools.”
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