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A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Service to Others Should Last All Year Long

By Peter DeWitt — January 22, 2013 2 min read
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It happens often in our national conversations and we see it on our yearly calendars. We hold events on days, weeks or months that really symbolize a feeling we should hold all year long. This past Monday was one of them. Schools and communities around the nation participated in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

According to the MLK Day of Service website,

“Dr. King believed in a nation of freedom and justice for all, and encouraged all citizens to live up to the purpose and potential of America by applying the principles of nonviolence to make this country a better place to live--creating the Beloved Community.

The MLK Day of Service is a way to transform Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life and teachings into community action that helps solve social problems. That service may meet a tangible need, or it may meet a need of the spirit. On this day, Americans of every age and background celebrate Dr. King through service projects that strengthen communities, empower individuals, bridge barriers, and create solutions.”

Miller Hill-Sand Lake Elementary School in the Averill Park Central School District is one such school that participated in the MLK Day of Service. Principal Denis Sibson said,

Over 100 students, parents, and teacher volunteers took advantage of a 'day off' from school to participate in a 'Day On' of community service. Volunteers gave their time and energy to help others by preparing meals for homeless shelters, making bracelets for child patients at Albany Medical Center, making dog treats for the humane society, hosting a book drive for children living at shelters, washing fire trucks at Averill Park Fire Department, making no sew fleece blankets for nursing home residents, collecting items and preparing care packages for area seniors and soldiers serving overseas and selling submarine sandwiches to raise funds for the Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund. The Day of Service was sponsored by the MHSL PTA Service Committee."

Miller Hill-Sand Lake students provide service all year long but they took the day to expand their service learning focus and it was a huge success. This type of day showed community members that their school cared and showed students the importance of caring.

No Name Calling Week
Another symbolic event, that should last all year long, is something that takes place this week. This year commemorates the 10th anniversary of “No Name Calling Week.” According to the GLSEN website,

No Name-Calling Week was inspired by a young adult novel entitled "The Misfits" by popular author, James Howe. The book tells the story of four best friends trying to survive the seventh grade in the face of all too frequent taunts based on their weight, height, intelligence, and sexual orientation/gender expression. Motivated by the inequities they see around them, the "Gang of Five" (as they are known) creates a new political party during student council elections and run on a platform aimed at wiping out name-calling of all kinds. The No-Name Party in the end, wins the support of the school's principal for their cause and their idea for a "No Name-Calling Day" at school."

As most educators know, name-calling is a regular part of the school day. However, just because it happens doesn’t mean it needs to be an acceptable practice among students. Calling someone names to hold them down, hurt their self-esteem or inflict some sort of psychological pain is not a rite of passage. It is just another form of bullying and shouldn’t be tolerated. Schools are supposed to be a safe place for all students.

Robert McGarry, GLSEN’s Director of Education says,

No Name-Calling Week highlights the need and provides strategies for teaching empathy and kindness, key aspects of social and emotional learning. As we have learned from the research on elementary school climate that led to GLSEN's creation of Ready, Set, Respect! Bullying prevention work must begin in early grades and continue in a spiral curriculum manner throughout the Pre-K-12 years. We have long promoted a whole school approach to No Name-Calling Week and we are pleased that this year we have added lessons that allow Physical Education teachers and coaches the opportunity to support the initiative."

No Name-Calling Week should last all year long.

At the Core of Who We Are
These special days, weeks and months (i.e. African-American History Month, Women’s History Month, etc.) exist to symbolize something that really needs to be at the core of who we are and what we do every day. Although these days are important, they symbolize how we should strive to live our lives. Some days we do a good job and other days...not so much. But it doesn’t mean we give up trying.

Too often, diversity is something that people are afraid of and they do not want to discuss it. The focus we have on service and embracing diversity this week needs to take place all year long. All too often, people believe the opposite of JFK’s quotation, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

This week is very special for many reasons. It was MLK’s birthday and the Presidential Inauguration. It provided an opportunity for everyone to come together and put aside their differences. The only thing better than such a special day, would be to come together on a daily basis. It doesn’t mean we can’t argue or disagree. It just means we should celebrate our diversity and focus on doing more for others.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.