In a sea of hot pink and blue T-shirts, NEA -Student and NEA-Retired members worked shoulder to shoulder hammering, gluing, writing, packing and creating at the Leaders Empowering Grassroots Advocacy for Communities and Youth (LEGACY) Project at the Student Leadership Conference July 1.
As dance music pumped through the cavernous conference room at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in downtown Washington, D.C. the volunteers moved from table to table every 15 minutes to work on community service projects like building Little Free Libraries, putting together care packages for homeless shelters and creating beautifully decorated hand-puppets containing notes of inspiration for cancer patients.
Helping Hand for Cancer Patients
“As future educators we know that we must see to the needs of students and the community beyond the walls of our classrooms,” says Tadean Page, an NEA Student member of The South Carolina Education Association and junior at Winthrop University. In his message to a person battling cancer, he wrote “You are strong. I believe in you.” He followed that with what he says is a personal motto he shares with young people all the time: “You are enough and you do matter.”
Sitting beside him was Ruth Tan, a Tennessee Education Association Student Member and junior at Tennessee Technical University, who was putting the finishing touches on a colorful and glittery hand-puppet. “It goes without saying that educators give back to the community,” she says. “Giving back is why we want to educate in the first place. We want to support children and help them succeed, not just academically.”
Hand-written Messages to Students and Teachers
At the “Pencils of Hope” station, where the volunteers stuffed backpacks with school supplies, they also wrote notes to students wishing them well on their first days of school.
“The themes in my note are that education is important, to always do your homework and that the good habits you develop in school now will pay off down the road when you get to college,” says Ciara Montgomery, a junior at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia.
Larry Koenck, a retired elementary physical education teacher from Minnesota, and Roger Sharp, a retired math teacher from Indiana, were at a letter-writing station to encourage educators to become mentors to student teachers.
“In our state there are new teachers who’ve never seen a raise, who’ve been flatlined and who need to feel supported or even more will leave the profession,” says Sharp. “In our letters we’re sharing our experiences as mentors and how gratifying it is to take these young people, who are so idealistic and enthusiastic, and help mold them into someone with the skills and professional commitment to be a great educator.”
At Samantha Mattingly’s table, a group of student members were working on building a Little Free Library, a doll house-sized box that will stand on a post in a community that needs more access to books.
“As educators, we are all about helping students get books they might not otherwise get at home,” says Mattingly, who is the state president of the Iowa Student NEA Program. “This hands-on project is the perfect way to introduce future educators to how to lead hands-on projects in their classrooms, and by working with retired members, it’s the perfect way to show them how being an NEA member is like being a part of a family.”