Preparing students to become "critical thinkers," "contributing and responsible members of society" and "successful in the global community" are more than just phrases embedded in the Richland School District's new mission statement. These words reflect the true end game of what student learning is all about.
Often times, learning begins with a question posed by a teacher. Why should we care about genocide or famine in North Africa? Is the Electoral College the best way to elect the president of the United States? Should the Tri-Cities have an aquatic center, and where should it be located? Students develop critical thinking skills as they discuss issues, form opinions, listen to opposing points of view and discuss the merits of each side.
Reading novels like The Grapes of Wrath or To Kill a Mockingbird gives students opportunities to reflect on the challenges that our nation has faced. Students working in the GESA Credit Union branches at Hanford and Richland high schools apply text book learning to a "real world" setting. Elementary students learn about politics by discussing the viewpoints of presidential candidates and casting votes in mock elections.
Sometimes, studying issues can lead to action, and that's when education becomes exciting. Academia merges into reality as students decide to get involved, to help someone, to make a difference in their local community, their nation and their world. Here are just a few inspiring examples of many that take place regularly in the Richland School District.
International Problems students at River's Edge High School conducted a book drive and raised $3,500 for Invisible Children, a nonprofit organization working to improve secondary education opportunities in northern Uganda. Twenty-three years of civil war have devastated the education system in the region.
"The students learned that they can make a difference by becoming part of the global community," said teacher Brian Sites. "They know now that they can play a role in helping create a better world."
Learning about the thousands of children dying from malaria in Africa stirred the hearts of some Chief Joseph Middle School students. They started a drive to raise money for Nothing but Nets, an organization that sends insecticide-treated bed nets to Africa. In the poorest parts of the world, bed nets are often the most cost-effective way to prevent malaria transmission.
"We had been studying Africa in our World History class and these seventh-graders were taken aback by the amount of malaria deaths," says teacher Ryan Hoff. "They really felt something for these children. They wanted to raise money to save lives."
When the Richland Food Bank was running low on supplies, the Jefferson Elementary School K-Kids Screaming Eagles (sponsored by the Tri-Cities Industry Kiwanis Club) jumped into action by putting food collection boxes around the school. After collecting the food, the K-Kids delivered the items to the Richland Food Bank.
Many schools have conducted supply drives for military personnel serving overseas. Hundreds of boxes have been donated to the local group, American Citizens Encouraging Support, for shipment to Iraq and Afghanistan. Students not only send socks, toothpaste and other personal items, but they also write letters of encouragement to these heroes who are far away from home.
Concern about the environment has led to a significant recycling program at Marcus Whitman Elementary School. Many bags of plastic, paper, glass, tin, cardboard and aluminum are collected each week and diverted from the local landfill. Spearheading the effort is fourth-grade teacher Lorie Morrison.
"If we don't take care of the Earth, who will?" she asks her students.
Richland High School Natural Helpers students visited White Bluffs Elementary School to help with Red Ribbon Week, a week devoted to encouraging young people to not use drugs and alcohol. They discussed the importance of making wise choices, helping others and working hard in school.
There's not only a tradition of educational excellence in the Richland School District, but also a tradition of giving back to our community and to the world. I commend all the teachers, parents and grandparents who instill our young people with the values of hard work, kindness and generosity. It's a privilege to live in such a wonderful community.