She said she received a “small avalanche” of replies, but the 38,000-student district didn’t want the collection to go to just anyone. The school board wanted it to remain in the city, go to a nonprofit organization, and be available to the public.
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.
—Marianne D. Hurst