Sunnyside As Camp Fire families, you often hear about “service-learning projects” our students participate in. But what does service-learning mean, anyway?

Service-learning is the bridge between standard learning methods and volunteerism. When Camp Fire students take on projects – whether it’s a camp clean-up, planting trees, or creating recycle centers – they engage in service-learning connections with their community, and work together to identify creative solutions to social problems.

At Sunnyside Environmental’s Before and After School program, Lead Instructor Cecelia Rehm knows all about service-learning projects and their benefits. Cecelia’s been integrating a service-learning curriculum throughout the year, and is now taking on the challenge of introducing Sunnyside students to the issue of global food insecurity.

The idea to teach elementary-aged students about food insecurity was sparked when a Sunnyside student asked Cecelia why Camp Fire only serves healthy snacks. Drawing from her past experience working with poor immigrant youth in east Multnomah County and Native American kids in rural Montana, she felt compelled to illustrate what a privilege it is to have access to healthy food.

Sunnyside2Sunnyside already had a program in place where middle school students put together sack lunches to serve at a nearby shelter, and Cecelia partnered with that project by having Camp Fire students make and donate food for the sack lunches. The four-week project began with exploring the definition of food insecurity: Where does it happen? Who does hunger affect most? Why does food insecurity happen? What can we, as kids and educators, do to help people in our own community who are hungry?

Students made maps to show where in the world food is most scarce, learned the effects of malnutrition on a child’s growing body, and created informational posters about where to donate food in Portland. Additionally, students worked together to make huge batches of four different recipes that they packaged and donated with the sack lunches.

Both students and parents responded to the project with overwhelming positivity. Parents who arrived to pick up their students mid-lesson stayed to help slice apples, stir granola, and make posters. One parent explained, “[My son] may only be six, but he sees homeless people downtown asking for money and food. It’s good that he’s already learning that he can help.”

Sunnyside Environmental has a school-day focus on experiential learning, with students regularly learning in the kitchen and the extensive Sunnyside garden. The Camp Fire team has been working to expand upon the hands-on learning completed by Camp Fire students during the school day by introducing a range of projects, starting with isolated lessons early in the year and moving towards a month-long unit where every Sunnyside Camp Fire student will participate in service-learning every day.