PUBLISHED: 4:36 PM on Wednesday, May 2, 2007
Montessori students learn value of serving their community

Courtesy photo
  Ben Krall volunteers at the recent anti-war rally with a homemade sign.
A good deed, a helping hand, a genuine service - this is what parents and teachers of the Montessori school program in Juneau encourage their children to partake in during their free time. At the early ages of six and seven, students in Montessori school begin learning how to take command of their schedules and activities - and why choosing to help others is productive as well as self-fulfilling.

The Montessori parent handbook states:

"Children learn by doing. They want and need to participate actively in all areas of family life and living. At this age they are physically strong and healthy, gregarious, capable of responsibility and are becoming more and more reflective. They are capable of great endeavors at this time in their lives (6-12 years old). As adults we must help them find the work they love to do and leave the rest to the children. They will continue to amaze us with their spirits and efforts!"

There are many children finding out how they can help and, more importantly, why they actually like to do it. Beginning community service at a young age, this crop of students is able to find gratifying activities that invest them in their community. Being a value encouraged in the school allows for children to see their peers as partners in community service. The Montessori program at Glacier Valley Elementary is an example of how many students in one setting are able to find different outlets for service. Student Jared Lear continuously finds ways to help out at his school. He has volunteered at the school open house, book fair, family fitness night and even has helped clean the parking lot. Lear's classmate, fifth-grader Jack Withington, also does many community service projects such as participating in bake sales, food drives and trash pick-ups, but has discovered his favorite service is helping at the Douglas Library. Withington now spends time there weekly helping the librarian directly with tasks such as organizing books, setting up meetings, and recycling projects. Withington has become so invested in his service that he has researched the history of libraries in Juneau and even the cost of running a library.

As these students rise in the ranks at their school, the hope is that they will continue to branch out into more outlets of service and/or become more deeply invested in the ones they are spending time in now. The older crowd at Glacier Valley's Montessori exemplifies that they are willing to take that role. Ben Krall, sixth grader in Chris Trostel's class, said he enjoys volunteering because, "It's my choice and I know I am helping the community." Krall has done a variety of projects such as cooking at the Glory Hole, baking cakes for fundraisers, testifying at the Legislature on equal rights issues and volunteering at Kids Vote. Krall has made such an impression with his presence as a volunteer that Rep. Les Gara sent him a personal letter thanking him for his courage to speak and dedicate his time. Which volunteer experience was Krall's favorite? Apparently a distinction must be made. Though the work on equal rights issues had the greatest impact on him, Krall admitted that "baking a North Douglas chocolate cake for a fundraiser was really fun because I happened to stay the night at the person's house who bought it, so we had some that night."

With a range of services from baking a heavy chocolate cake to protesting major political issues, Krall, a Montessori student since kindergarten, is an example of how the habits of volunteering one's time and service can not only aid others, but reveal an aptitude for life choices to come. becomes a personal venture that also aids others.

In the Adolescent Montessori Program for grades seventh and eighth, further service is happening and will hopefully continue on as the students integrate into the high school. Matthew Talley, a 14-year-old eighth grader, said his favorite community service activity is picking up trash along the road. According to Talley, it is interesting to "see what people leave along the side of the road and when I pick it up, I feel like I'm doing something good for the environment." A 'senior' in the Montessori program, Matthew plans on continuing service while in high school. A former classmate, ninth grader Philip Murray, has done just that. When he was younger, Murray spent time each Wednesday helping with the Meals on Wheels program. Murray had expected community service to be "just something else in my schedule" but since it was encouraged through school and family, he realizes the benefits of "meeting new people and having them appreciate you more than if you were just doing a job."

Now in high school, Murray continues his community service work every year at the Salmon Derby.

It is a great service at "such a friendly community event," Murray said. "My sister Malin also volunteers and we like doing it because it is a lot of fun."

The elements of interest and fun helps service become a personal venture that also aids others.

As this philosophy is reinforced over time, the students show that service is true when one wants to give.

By demonstrating this, students make impressions on their peers as well as their parents. The students share with the class what projects they have done and according to Murray, "There are a lot of interesting things that people did and it's pretty cool when someone finds a project they really like." Krall said, "There are a wide variety of projects people do and it can be surprising what they come up with. I'm sure I've been effected by hearing what others in my class have done."

Even their parents can be surprised by how the kids begin to instigate their own community service projects. There is a strong belief that the service is a good habit forming in their lives as opposed to a mandatory assignment. Lear's mom, Stephanie Allison, said of her son's volunteer work, "I'm thrilled that at the age of nine, my son is aware of the importance of community service and that his teacher and classmates reinforce that importance, as well as the substantial self-fulfillment that service brings."

With these ideas being demonstrated by the children we are close to, maybe others will be more compelled to join in and invest in the betterment of our community.