This week eighth graders at Seattle alternative school The Option Program at Seward (TOPS) put regular lessons aside to embark on a three-day mission to learn about the social services in their city and the people who use them. Students in the annual Planting the Seeds program are equipped with maps and passes for public transportation that they use to visit food pantries, shelters, and other charities, where they pitch in. Eighth graders—along with adult chaperones—sleep at churches to increase the immersion. This year they focused on getting to know homeless people.
Language-arts teacher Lori Eickelberg started the initiative a few years ago, and told Safiya Merchant of the Seattle Times, “I think this project plants a seed. I don’t know if it’ll change anybody’s life forever, but…I hope that it plants a seed of finding the beauty in the other.”
The students left their phones and iPods at home, and completed such projects as stocking the University District Food Bank and making Valentines for the needy. TOPS’ website collects some of the reflections students have upon completing the program. One wrote, “This trip has taught me so many things. It has taught me to open my heart to people I wouldn’t normally talk to. It has also taught me to be thoughtful about what I can do to help, because I can do so many things to help.”