Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

In Nashville, Community Service Starts in Kindergarten

July 16, 2019

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By Lara Santos

The Volunteer Corps Club grew out of 2019 Tennessee Milken Educator Shelly Gaughan’s own passion for community service: “It was really important to me to make sure I was providing our kids with meaningful learning opportunities.”

It’s not unusual for middle or high school students to perform community service as part of their education. Many schools around the country encourage or even require it.

But at East End Preparatory School in Nashville, service learning is part of the curriculum starting in kindergarten thanks to Milken Educator Shelly Gaughan (TN ’18). Shelly, who teaches kindergarten, founded the school’s Volunteer Corps Club in 2017 with fellow kindergarten teacher Natalie Holland. Open to East End Prep’s youngest students in grades K-2, the club grew out of Shelly’s own passion for community service. “It was really important to me to make sure I was providing our kids with meaningful learning opportunities,” Shelly says. “I kind of thought to myself, ‘Why can’t kids volunteer?’”

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Shelly and Natalie brainstormed ideas for potential projects for their youngest students. With their own areas of interest and the community’s greatest needs in mind, they settled on a total of eight projects, including making care packages for deployed military members, crafting felt blankets for the homeless, singing to senior citizens, and picking up trash at a local park.

Students were excited when Shelly told them about the projects. Their parents were equally enthusiastic: “We sent out an interest form and got an overwhelming response,” she says. “It was exciting to see how many families wanted their children involved in service.”

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Shelly hopes that participating in community service will open students’ eyes and show them that everyone—big kid or small, wealthy or poor—has the power to make a difference in the world. Shelly learned this lesson in her own family, which pursued volunteer experiences and raised her to understand the importance of serving others. “Within our family unit, service was important,” she says. “It was instilled in me that there are always people without; there’s always someone with less than we have. It was important to recognize that we came from privilege and we needed to do our part and give back.”

Though her students are young, Shelly believes that this early immersion in community service will provide lifelong value. “It’s a powerful thing for kids to realize that you don’t have to have money to give your time,” she says. “Even if you’re not particularly good at a craft or an activity, you can still do something, because the thought behind it is really what counts. Thoughtfulness and consideration—those are things that everyone can give.”

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