Michigan Program Puts Philanthropy Into Curriculum

September 21, 2004 2 min read


That’s the first reaction most people have when they hear Kathy Agard talking about Learning to Give, a curriculum developed by the Council of Michigan Foundations that helps educators teach philanthropy in schools.

“People [think] of philanthropy as rich people giving money,” said Ms. Agard, the program’s executive director. “But we define it as giving, serving, and private-citizen action intended for the common good.”

The program, which began as a research project in 1995, has reached nearly 92,000 students in 74 public, private, and charter schools in Michigan. It offers lesson plans, support materials, and professional development for teachers who want their students to gain a better understanding of how they can play a role in society.

The program offers a subtle touch, by teaching about philanthropic ideas rather than pushing classes specifically on the subject. Most lessons incorporate ideas on sharing and giving into other subjects, although a few offer definitions on the primary concepts behind nonprofit organizations and financial giving.“Philanthropy is everywhere in academics—it’s just invisible,” said Ms. Agard.

So far, the program has shown good effects. Teachers who have used it have reported improved social behavior in their classrooms and more awareness among students of their responsibility to one another and their communities.

Learning to Give officials speculate that those behaviors stem from the program’s ability to instill in students the expectation that sharing is something good people do.

Michigan State University, which is in the second year of a three-year study on the curriculum, expects to release a report on its impact in 2006.

Ms. Agard hopes eventually to see the curriculum used in schools nationwide.

Classroom Classifieds: It all started with a sweater.

In 1998, Carolyn Gillis found herself looking at an expensive Boston Trader’s sweater her young son had never worn. It was a nice sweater, and she didn’t want to throw it away.

It occurred to her that she should advertise the sweater and donate part of the proceeds to the 2,173-student Falmouth, Maine, school district.

But after printing three editions of a newsletter to advertise unwanted items, she decided that virtual advertising was better than print. That’s when was born.

The site, launched in June, offers free ads for sellers who agree to donate a portion of their sales to help local schools. The site has listed pianos, rental properties, rugs, furniture, and even cars. Ms. Gillis hopes that the program will spread to other states.

“It is a tool,” she said. “It is what the community makes of it.”