In a recent article, The Wall Street Journal welcomed Mark Ottoni-Wilhelm, Una Osili, and Alison Powell, all experts in philanthropy, to discuss methods and benefits of teaching your child philanthropic behavior from a young age. We couldn’t agree more. At The Rashi School, the Boston Area Reform Jewish K-8 Independent School, philanthropy and the charitable activities that accompany it are core to our mission.
The Rashi School is the only independent school that employs a full-time Social Justice Coordinator—”the Peace Teacher,” as our Kindergarteners lovingly call her. Rashi’s social justice curriculum connects intimately to other key character development goals of a Rashi education, including democratic leadership, citizenship, critical thinking, and awareness of the diverse social forces in our world. Social justice is integrated into every appropriate aspect of the curriculum as well as activities in the broader school community. We constantly seek, identify, explore and highlight acts of social justice that occur around us. Most importantly, we model social justice every day in interactions with one another as students, teachers, peers, colleagues, and friends.
The social justice coordinator is responsible for organizing a highlight of the Rashi school year—a three-week-long, school-wide philanthropy project called Rashi Purim Tamchui.
Purim Tamchui engages students in meaningful social justice learning and action and helps them recognize themselves as educated and empathetic young philanthropists. The project introduces five age-appropriate charitable organizations to our students over the course of two weeks. As a community, the school learns about the myriad needs of children and their families and how different non-profit organizations and programs are creatively responding to and supporting these needs. Then, during the third week of the project, students are asked to grapple with what they have learned and to make a decision—one each day of the week—about which organization is important for them to support and why. Each student is given five plastic chips each which represents a portion of the Rashi Purim Tamchui Fund—a real fund, filled with real money raised by parents, faculty and staff, friends of the school, and even our own students—and they decide where their portion of the fund goes. At the end of the project, the school writes real checks according to our students’ wishes and sends them off to hopefully do good in the world.
And the kids love it. They cheer for representatives from the honored organizations as though they were rock stars when they visit on “Meet the Reps Day.” They bring in coins and bills, squirreled away in their piggy banks, to contribute to the fund. They joyfully offer their gently used toys, sports equipment, and clothing to the yard sale that benefits the Tamchui Fund. They carefully craft gifts to give to the representatives when they arrive at the school to bring back to the people their organization supports.
During Tamchui, something changes in our students. When they head to the allocation center in the school’s common learning space, the sukkat shalom (the shelter of peace), large sheets of paper line tables containing prompts to encourage students to deeply consider their actions while they’re there. On one mural asking why the Rashi Purim Tamchui Project is important to them, a student wrote, “It feels like the world is becoming more beautiful.” Another, “I get to make a difference as a child.” Still another, “I’m inspired to start my own organization.”
And as a result of this essential work, students who graduate from The Rashi School go on to participate in philanthropic activity: they make charitable contributions, they volunteer their time, they even start their own charitable organizations. There is such a strong trend in our alumni to continue their philanthropic work that the school has even started honoring our alumni with the “Tikkun Alum Award” (a play on tikkun olam, which means “repairing the world”, a key tenant to Jewish teaching) and the competition for this recognition is formidable.
As a school with social justice at our core, we could hardly ask for more.
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