Saul Vazquez can divide his eighth-grade classmates into two groups, and of the two he knows exactly where he wants to belong: the group that does good for the community.

A participant in the recent Giving Tuesday at Harrison Park School, Saul believes there are students who want to help while others prefer to remain in the background. Saul, who plans to become an architect, said there is little doubt which group he plans to join.

"Some people out there don't have the things we have, and there are some people who want to help them give back to the community," Saul said.

Beautiful Beleon works on one of 1,700 different lesson plans found in the Learning to Give program

That's why Saul said he enjoyed the activities at Harrison Park, which were part of the Learning to Give curriculum. The program's goal is to blend academic content into the core curriculum of schools. It contains philanthropic and skill development activities that students can use in giving back to their communities. Among the schools participating were Coit Creative Arts Academy and Grand Rapids Montessori High School as well as Harrison Park.

The global program provides 1,700 lesson plans for K-12 students, and which are aligned with Common Core and Michigan education standards. The lesson plans are tied to writing, history, math, geography and art. Teachers attempt to provide a hands-on approach to those subjects, and help students discover such topics as profit vs. not-for-profit, communities in crisis, writers as activists and the Earth's past as well as its future.

Among Harrison Park's projects were showing students what kind of "super-friend" they can be, constructing gifts for veterans, reading and then discussing a book on improving communities, and compiling food baskets.

Saul said students are eager to discover the connection between academic subjects and applying them to everyday use.

"You can learn these skills like giving back to someone and that your life is a little better, too," he said.

Christopher Secundino makes a snowflake as part of activities on Giving Tuesday

Connecting Academics to Community

Learning to Give Director Betsy Peterson said the approach helps students grasp the connection between what they learn and how to apply it to a community. Learning the benefits of philanthropy is a cornerstone of the program, she said.

"The goal is by the time they graduate they've engaged citizens in having a better community," Peterson said. "We want them to understand why we give. It gives the kids a purpose beyond themselves. We want the students to understand they have a voice that builds motivation and purpose."

Peterson said students will feel better about themselves when they understand their efforts have a positive effect. "I think it helps them step up a little and make them feel good about helping others," she added. "You can see the light going on in them."

Harrison Park Principal Troy Wilbon said the program's lessons on historical actions, personal motivation and volunteerism are not lost on the students.

"It's not just about giving back, but the students feeling like they're a part of something," Wilbon said. "We need to give them that opportunity. If you want leaders, you have to show them how to lead. They get this hands-on experience so they can connect everything.

"It all goes hand-in-hand. Sometimes kids don't know how to connect things unless you show them."

By Steve Vedder, Courtesy of School News Network