The 6th grade year at NMS is full of opportunities for leadership, personal growth, and collaboration. While continuing with the academically rigorous Montessori curriculum, our 6th grade students also take on a yearlong independent research project and work together to fundraise and plan for an overnight field trip—two monumental tasks! This year, in recognizing our school’s commitment to community, the 6th years also decided to take on the task of planning a day of community service.
This year’s 6th graders are a creative, empathetic, and motivated group. They are also animal lovers; so very early on, they agreed that they wanted their service day to benefit animals. After determining a set of criteria with which to evaluate options—such as proximity to public transportation, volunteer opportunities for children, and availability on their chosen date—they took on the task of exploring different animal rescue organizations in the area and contacting each with a series of questions. They ultimately decided on Gifford Cat Shelter. Gifford is the first free-roam, no-kill cat shelter in the country and has been open for over 130 years. The staff at Gifford invited the 6th years to join them for a half-day of service.
The 6th graders decided to spend the first half of the day at school designing cat toys in the Makerspace that they could bring with them to donate. They followed the typical design thinking process—first considering the needs/wants of their feline consumers, reviewing the materials available, sketching designs, selecting their best design, creating a prototype, and then evaluating and modifying it until they were happy with the end product. Not surprisingly with this bunch, they each ended up with a unique, creative, and enticing toy to bring to Gifford.
Students then put their knowledge of the public transit system to the test as they traveled by train (switching lines midway!) to the shelter. Upon arrival, they were given a tour and an overview of the organization, its capabilities, and services provided. To their delight, they were introduced to many cats along the way. After their tour, they provided much needed contact and play time for the cats. They got a chance to test the toys they had designed, all of which were very well received, and provide comfort to the cats that were more interested in a warm lap to sit on. After this, they made fleece tie blankets for the kitten room, as Gifford is anticipating a very busy “kitten season” this year.
After saying goodbyes, with more than one promise of, “I’m going to beg my parents to adopt you!”, the group headed back to school. While reflecting on the day, the sentiment of the group was that while it felt really great to spend the day volunteering at Gifford, it made them wish they could do more to help. In my own personal reflection as an advisor to the group, this experience struck me as a true embodiment of the NMS mission. Students were challenged to find a personally meaningful service opportunity, empowered to take on the planning and execution themselves, and the experience ultimately left them inspired to do more.