Teaching and learning about homelessness: a capstone experience

Grade 2 teacher Corinna Raasch celebrates with students at the end of a successful parent tea in June 2019. 

By LeeAnne Lavender, Service Learning Coach

At the end of the last school year, grade 2 teacher Corinna Raasch wanted to do something meaningful and special with her students as a capstone experience. She reached out to me and asked if we might be able to design something around a service learning cycle, and something wonderful began to grow from that initial email.

We met soon afterwards, did some brainstorming, and realized that a class partnership with Home Sweet Home (a homeless shelter here in Shanghai) was a great starting point to tie together several learning threads from the year. Before long, after meeting a few times to plan sessions and frame the service learning experience, we dove into two weeks of co-teaching with the grade 2 students. All five stages of a service learning cycle were featured during the two-week period which culminated in a parent tea where students taught the parents about homelessness in the city and parents brought in rice and cooking oil to donate to Home Sweet Home.

Students plan and prepare for activities.

It was a rich and rewarding experience for all of us, students and teachers alike.

We began the cycle by asking students to recall what they remembered about the needs of Home Sweet Home (student had met with the director of Home Sweet Home a month before). Based on the expressed needs of the organization, students engaged in brainstorming to imagine how they might meet those needs, and their creativity and passion for service were inspiring. Students had a hard time waiting to express their ideas; words kept burbling up because they were all so excited to share and get to work.

In the end, students decided they wanted to help with the Home Sweet Home lunch program by providing rice and cooking oil, but they wanted to do this in a meaningful way. Rather than just collect money or items, they decided to plan a whole afternoon for their parents where they would teach them about homelessness and the parents could bring items as a “ticket” for the event.

Over the course of 3-4 class periods, students grouped up based on their interests, skills and talents and planned a variety of activities for their parents. One group wrote and practiced a skit about homelessness. Another put together informative slides and prepared a formal presentation. Another built a model. One student made origami animals to give to the parents as a thank you for attending the afternoon.

      Students perform a skit about Home Sweet Home at the parent tea. 

During each work session, students were thoroughly engaged, utilizing their interests, skills and talents to shape a specific component of the upcoming event. And, as the event drew near, students became more and more excited. Their parents were coming to school and they were going to have the chance to teach them and share with them! The students were brimming with anticipation.

On the day of the parent tea, students bustled to complete final preparations, and then welcomed parents with open arms.

As the afternoon progressed, it was evident that the students were doing an excellent job teaching the parents. Parents were visibly moved by both the hard work of their sons and daughters, as well as the messages they received about homelessness in the city.

Working with the grade 2 students was so lovely; I spend most of my time with high school students and it was a treat to get into the grade 2 classroom to teach and coach alongside Ms. Raasch. This experience was rewarding for both of us, along with all of the students, the parents, and the staff and clientele of Home Sweet Home.

A student welcomes parents and kick off the parent tea in June, 2019. Students were excited to share what they had learned about homelessness in Shanghai with their parents and, at the same time, collect items for the Home Sweet Home lunch program. 


LeeAnne Lavender is the PreK-12 Service Learning Coach at Concordia International School Shanghai. She also teaches a HS Applied Learning course called Global Development Studies, and is a co-founder of the Shanghai Service and Sustainability Network.