A few weeks ago, I had unexpected guests in my office: two kindergarten students. Upon finding me, their eyes widened and lit up; they were on a mission. “Ms. Liz, we have our tzedakah boxes for you!”, they sang out with pride. “We collected this money to make the world a better place.”
With joy in my heart for their efforts, I asked, “How did you collect all of this money?” Daisy shared that she had taken money from her own piggy bank and now she has two banks, one for herself and one for tzedakah. Cora shared that she collected coins from around the house and did chores to save up her contribution. I thanked them and they skipped back to their classrooms knowing they had lived our school’s values of Tzedakah and Tikkun Olam.
This fall was filled with students excited to tell me they had tzedakah to contribute. Each student gave me their donation with a true sense of pride, knowing they were taking action to repair the world. Altogether the students donated $395 with their pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and the occasional dollar bill.
How Are We Teaching Our Children to Practice Tzedakah?
Teaching our children that giving is an important way to make the world more equitable is just one step in developing one’s tzedakah or philanthropy muscle. In Kindergarten, each student decorates a coin bank to take home. They are encouraged to do chores to earn small amounts of money to put in their tzedakah box. Each year these funds are collected by the entire student body to donate to a collective organization. Our students learn by combining our small acts of generosity, we are able to make a greater impact in our community.
Fourth-grade students, as a persuasive writing assignment, wrote about an issue they wanted the student body’s tzedakah to support. Students researched issues of concern and wrote essays expressing their opinions on how the collected money should be shared. Students advocated for the needs of families in Nepal, animals in shelters, COVID first-line responders, and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The fourth-grade essays were read by our eighth-grade students, who in their Ethics in Action class, were learning how philanthropists determine which non-profit organizations to support. After considering the fourth graders’ opinions and discussing their own priorities, the eighth grade decided to focus on the Black Lives Matter movement’s call to end police brutality. Acting as the student body’s philanthropy board, eighth-grade students created their philosophy of giving. They wanted to support organizations that met the following criteria:
- had a proven track record of making an impact,
- were inspirational in their mission, and
- were transparent in their finances.
Using online resources, students researched a number of nonprofits seeking organizations that addressed their concerns and were in line with their philosophy and made arguments to support their choices.
“I think The McGillis School should give our tzedakah to the Southern Poverty Law Center because after looking at their website and looking at how Charity Navigator rated them I think they are the best organization to donate to. On their website, I think a really powerful thing that they do is fight against hate, and I think especially with the topic of racism fighting hate groups and fighting hate, in general, is very important,” wrote eighth-grade student Avi about his choice for non-profit to support.
Another student, Lucy, wrote “I think that we should pick the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund as our organization. They focus on litigation, advocacy, and public education to create racial justice. NAACP believes in using resources and kind ways to spread awareness everywhere. These are important values and focuses because they align with what we are trying to achieve with the tzedakah money.”
Ultimately, the students chose two organizations to support: The Legal and Education Fund of the NAACP and The Southern Poverty Law Center. By donating on Giving Tuesday, the student body’s gifts were donated on December 1 and then matched by other donors thereby doubling the impact of our students’ contributions.
Returning each year to our School’s values in developmentally appropriate ways, our students are developing both the muscle memory and the knowledge of how to live lives filled with empathy, giving to those in need, and a commitment to the well-being of all.