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From Learning to Service

Written on March 20th, 2017

Students in grades seven and eight at Sarnia Christian School (SCS) extended their learning beyond the classroom recently, using the beautiful work they had created in their unit on the Ancient Romans as an opportunity to make a significant difference for those in need in their community.

Following an invitation from the Inn of the Good Shepherd to participate in their annual CAN-struction food drive, teacher Mary Abma asked her students to brainstorm ways that they could use their learning to make a difference in their community. She presented them with the driving question: “How can we present an authentic Roman experience to others?”

Students decided they would raise funds for the food drive by creating a Roman Marketplace, where they would create and sell various items that represented the Roman culture they were learning about. They formed groups that studied various topics, and decided together how to present authentic Roman experiences to parents and visitors from the community.

One group decided to make Roman food, researching ancient Roman recipes, how food was served and eaten by the Romans, and even ancient Roman food preservation practices. They invited several parents to help them prepare food to sell at the marketplace.

A second group focused on jewelry and bead making, researching the types of jewelry worn by different social classes, how glass beads were made, and the religious importance of jewelry. The students made beads of their own, and fashioned them into jewelry to sell, to raise money for CAN-struction.

Another group decided to make a movie, focusing on the life of gladiators and gladiatorial contests that took place in Rome. They explored various filming techniques to tell the story of a rebel who became a gladiator, and sold movie admission tickets at the Roman Marketplace evening.

Toys and games were the focus of another group. They researched the games Romans played, then crafted game boards and pieces which they set up in the forum for game playing, Roman-style.

Still others focused on Roman religion, their gods and goddesses, and the significance of the Roman winter festivals. A final group concentrated their efforts on studying Roman clothing, and set up a photo booth at the Marketplace in which visitors could “dress like a Roman”.

Through their event, the students at SCS raised over $250, along with 150 cans of food. “As a teacher, I embrace this kind of learning project for my students,” shared Ms. Abma. “I believe that the best learning experiences come through collaborating and problem solving, and this event involved both. The students were able to work together to come up with an idea and to work through the challenges, and their motivation was to help others by doing so.”

Rather than donating the money directly to the food bank, a few of the students decided to participate in Sarnia’s sixth annual CAN-struction fundraising event at the Lambton Mall last weekend. Each year, the Inn of the Good Shepherd invites teams of people from local businesses, schools, and unions to create sculptures out of the canned goods they have collected, promoting awareness of the need for donations in the community.

This year’s CAN-struction theme focused on the 150th anniversary of Canada, and teams created everything from models of Niagara Falls to totem poles to a giant Stanley cup out of their canned goods.

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The students from Sarnia Christian School were excited to be a part of the festivities. “We got together to decide what to build, and we wrote down the first thing that came to mind when celebrating a birthday,” shared team leader Ari, a grade eight student at SCS. “Of course, we immediately thought about birthday cakes, and so we decided to make a giant birthday cake for Canada.”

“It was exciting once we’d done the work to raise the money, because we could get to work designing what we wanted our sculpture to look like and figure out what canned food to buy,” continued Ali. The five student volunteers bought cans of various sizes and did a practice run of building their cake in the school atrium before joining the other sixteen teams at the Lambton Mall for the official CAN-struction build day. “At one point during the practice build, it almost collapsed,” laughed Ari. “It was hanging on by one can!”

“What makes this kind of educational experience so rich is that the teacher is not giving students information or telling them how to complete the project,” shared art teacher Ms. Abma. “The teacher is a facilitator, and the students are the ones that are doing the research, coming up with ideas, collaborating about ways to solve problems, and working together to achieve success.”

“Above all,” continued Ms. Abma, “it was meaningful for the students to participate in a project that has a real-world application with an authentic audience.”

All of the canned food used for the sculptures and the financial donations that were raised through the CAN-struction event, which typically range from $15,000 to $20,000, directly benefiting the Inn of the Good Shepherd during a slow time of the year for the charity.

“We’ve collected over 35,000 pounds of food today, just from these sculptures alone,” shared Myles Vanni, Executive Director of the non-profit organization Inn of the Good Shepherd in Sarnia. “That’s about a one-month supply of food for those in need in our city.”

“People are often surprised by that number,” Mr. Vanni continued. “On a day like this, where people see the boxes and boxes of canned food being used for the sculptures, it impresses on them in a visual way how much of a need there is for people to be fed in our city. This event has become a very good educational tool for our organization, in terms of helping the community understand the extent of poverty that exists in our city.”

Principal Len Smit was pleased that a group of students were volunteering their day off to participate in the community event. “I’m always excited at the opportunity to make connections between student learning and helping others in the community,” he shared.

“We’re so excited that students from Sarnia Christian School have jumped in and joined this project this year,” shared Mr. Vanni. “We appreciate their enthusiasm, and many people will be blessed by the work they did to fundraise and donate canned food to help others in our community.”

“Building the cake was fun,” shared Ali. “But the experience of getting here was the best part. It was a good feeling knowing that the things we learned about helped to raise the money we needed for the sculpture, and that by doing it we helped other people in the community. I hope this kind of learning becomes a yearly tradition at Sarnia Christian School!”