Our school embarked on a year-long, cross-grade chesed project that encouraged students to think critically about problems in our community, city, and country, and to begin to solve those problems. This project stems from the psalm that states: "The world was built on loving kindness."
Middle School Advisory-Led Chesed Project
For our school’s Theme of the Year, Olam Chesed Yibaneh, we enacted a year-long project that included all of our elementary school students from kindergarten – 8th grade. The project was led by our 7th and 8th graders through the middle school advisory program.
Our theme is derived from the pasuk in Tehillim that explains that the world is built on loving kindness. Our goal was to infuse the school year with acts of chesed both informally and formally. The program outlined below is the formal curriculum developed for our students.
At the beginning of the year, each middle school advisory group was paired with a lower school or 6th grade class and given a broad social problem to learn about and attempt to tackle over the course of the year. For example, the third grade was assigned to “Combatting Hunger,” and throughout the year, four advisory groups from the seventh and eighth grade visited the third graders to learn about the problem of hunger in our area and how to help those who do not have enough food. These students then ran a food drive, decorated placemats for Meals on Wheels, and made sandwiches to donate.
The middle school’s advisory groups, as the leads of this program, each prepared for and ran the various projects by learning more deeply about the importance of chesed, the significance of the problem they were assigned in our country and community, and the work done by the individual organizations looking to solve that problem. Students then partnered with those organizations in order to execute various projects with their elementary school class partner.
The unit began during in-service with the teachers. Everyone studied this packet in small groups to prepare themselves for the year of chesed on which the school was about to embark. At the beginning of the school year, the seventh and eighth graders learned this lesson on their own and then taught it to their elementary-school partner class in small groups the following week. A few weeks later, the advisories prepared for their first project by completing this lesson, modified from TeachingTolerance.org, about the difference between charity and justice. The goal of this lesson was for students to consider how to classify the chesed they do throughout the year and to begin to think of other ways to improve upon their work.
Once the advisory groups examined the ideas of charity and justice, each group was given its chesed theme for the year and first project assignment. The themes are given below:
- Supporting senior citizens (1st Grade)
- Comforting the sick (2nd grade)
- Combating hunger (3rd Grade)
- Supporting our soldiers (American and Israeli) (4th grade)
- Protecting our environment (5th grade)
- Caring for the homeless and impoverished (6th Grade)
Each advisory group then prepared for their project by completing this lesson. The following week, the 7th and 8th graders led the first chesed project of the year with their assigned class. They explained the purpose of the project using their slideshow (here is an example of a slideshow created by one advisory for the environmental project) as well as the details of the day’s activity. Together, the students completed the chesed project with their assigned class. The 7th and 8th graders, now visiting a class for a second time, began to build relationships with the younger students and supported them to complete the project.
Throughout the year, students will complete this process two more times with two new projects that fit within each grade’s theme. Each meeting and project will be an opportunity for the school to build community between grades and for the students to serve our broader community through the projects they complete.
In addition, the middle schoolers have had and will continue to have opportunities to hear from different organizations that do work within the categories in which students are working. For example, one group of students met with and spoke to a representative from City Harvest, while another group heard from a soldier currently serving in the American military.
While this project did not fit into a specific academic subject, it taught many skills applicable across the curriculum. It gave the seventh and eighth graders opportunities to practice and improve upon their public speaking skills, to build relationships with students across grades, and to examine significant problems in our world today as well as solutions/aid for those problems. In addition, it gave all of our students opportunities to embody the value expressed in Tehillim so important to our community — olam chesed yibaneh.
Addition Information about our Chesed Projects can be found: here.
Teacher reflections on this experience can be found: here.
Julia Friedman Rubin is a social studies teacher in the SAR Middle School who also dabbles in the math department. She has helped write the middle school advisory curriculum for the past two years. Julia has a Masters in teaching social studies from Teachers College Columbia University and a bachelors degree from the University of Pennsylvania.
Ayala Raice is an English and Humanities teacher in the SAR Middle School, as well as the head of the middle school advisory program. She also has helped write the middle school advisory curriculum. She has a masters degree from NYU and bachelors degree from Yeshiva University Stern College.