Phi Beta Kappa calls itself the “key that opens doors to lifelong opportunity.” In celebration of the national honor society’s 240th birthday, Washington College’s chapter took that motto seriously.
During the 2016-17 academic year, a total of $2,400 was donated to several local public and private schools during Phi Beta Kappa “Keys to Action” week, held over its Dec. 5 birthday.
“We’re customers for life; we’re thinkers forever – while it sounds corny, the idea was that there might be things teachers may be able to do but, because of their limited resources, it’s difficult for them to access the tools to work for their children,” says Dr. Lauren Littlefield, associate professor of psychology and chapter president. “We wanted to instill that idea of the love of learning as early as possible in the local community.”
Under her leadership, 11 grants, each $240, were awarded to schools in Kent County. No money was left unspent.
Sue Caswell, the Kent County Middle School librarian at the time, used the award to purchase books on topics such as handling anger or depression, or what to do if someone in the home uses substances. It was a resource she thought the guidance counselor might be able to use when the occasions arise.
The rest of the grant was spent on board games with an educational component, like Scrabble.
“Just giving them an element of fun and maybe an opportunity to demonstrate skills that they wouldn’t necessarily be able to demonstrate as part of the regular curriculum,” says Caswell. “Although they thought they were just having fun, they were subliminally working with words.”
She says that there is a push for media centers within libraries to have other educational activities besides reading – a way for students to utilize abilities they wouldn’t necessarily be able to tap into as part of their coursework.
“You might not know that you have budding engineer when he or she is doing their classwork,” says Caswell. “But if they come to the media center and they build this incredible structure, maybe they are on a different track. It gives kids the ability to express themselves through a variety of means.”
Tracy Hodge, a science teacher at Galena Elementary, used the funds to improve the school’s birding opportunities. This learning initiative easily extends into making the students lifelong learners.
“Anything you approach at a higher intellectual level, the children gravitate towards,” he says, noting that this grant will help the students learn a “multitude of things” about the birds, such as observing behavior, classification of birds, and considering migration patterns.
Opportunities like this, which engage the students outside of the classroom, are what the chapter strove to highlight when they first donated money to the schools.
“Whereas before you were possibly only reading about it in a textbook or online, now you’re actually going out and, because you have feeding boxes and all that, it makes it a more engaging and dynamic excitement about gathering knowledge,” Littlefield says.
“One of my goals as a teacher is that my children be inspired through school,” says Hodge.