By Maria Bennici
As the leaves begin to crunch on the sidewalk and buses start to rumble up the street, it’s clear to see that the back-to-school season is upon us. Whether you’re a student or a teacher, or even if you’ve been out of school for ages, the change of the season provides excellent opportunities to be more involved in your community and to find new sustainable ways to learn and live.
Volunteer: Looking for ways to spend time with cute animals, improve your home improvement skills, or simply meet new people? Check out local organizations, including SPCA, Habitat for Humanity, and nursing homes, and ask them about volunteering and any possible training programs associated with them. Remember to choose something that you would be well-equipped to help with in terms of your own skills and availability! As a teacher, see if you can reach out to local businesses, such as restaurants or stores, to see if they would be willing to offer incentives for students who volunteer a certain number of hours (similar to the Book It! program with Pizza Hut during my own elementary school years).
Extracurricular time: Find an activity to either join or lead this year. This is a great way to meet new people and to spend time doing something that really interests you (and also bolsters your own skill sets). If you haven’t found an activity that you enjoy it, think about creating your own, such as a social entrepreneurship club, a Jane Austen appreciation club, or a foreign film club that combines the movie with its culture. You might be surprised by how many other people share your passion as well.
Skype in the Classroom: Interested in other cultures but lacking in funds to launch a full overseas experience? You can use Skype in the Classroom to communicate with other classes around the world, or even other classes within your own country. This allows students to meet their peers with radically different life experiences or to even meet special guest speakers. If using technology to interact with outside groups, be sure to check school protocol and to also design the curriculum in a way that makes this activity as personal as possible for students. Allow them the chance to write questions and guide the conversation before initiating the call.
If using bandwidth at your school is a problem or there are too many time zones to make live calls feasible, consider using Twitter, blogging, or video-logging as a way to communicate. Odds are, students are already using and enjoying this type of technology. Check out more international school partnering tips here!
Giving back: When you’ve got down time, consider heading over to websites like Free Rice, Free Kibble, and Answer 4 Earth, which are trivia websites that allow you and students to learn while also donating grains of rice, food to animals, or money towards organizations that will plant trees. You could also host a trivia tournament in which money raised will be donated towards a cause supported by the participants. No need for the trivia tournament to be limited to only Jeopardy!-style categories—feel free to structure it around things that would interest many students, from questions on Taylor Swift’s discography to the latest dystopian releases.
Current events: Standing in the front of the class while reading a paragraph about current events can be excruciatingly boring, especially for a significant duration of the class. Instead, encourage students to research current affairs and to then do an art project on the larger trend around an event that particularly interests them. Art projects need not be limited to paintings and collages—Tumblr, gif-sets, and Buzzfeed-style videos could also work as well.
Backpacks: There are loads of high-quality, eco-friendly backpacks on the market, but if you’re looking to actively give back as well, check out Just Porter, a company that donates backpacks full of school supplies to communities in need while also manufacturing the bags and buying the supplies locally. The company definitely gets a pat on the back for considering how to integrate with the community and not flooding the market with free handouts, thus putting local owners out of business. Learn more about Just Porter with this recent Business Insider article!
Charitable apps: Regardless of whether or not you’re sitting in a classroom, nearly everyone, students and teachers alike, are on their smartphones a lot. Harness your phone to help others by finding apps that give back! Charity Miles is an app that’s great for people on the cross-country team or who like to bike and run for fun—for every mile ran, a biker earns 10 cents and a walker or runner earns 25 cents. For those who are addicted to sharing photos, whether on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, you can use Donate a Photo in conjunction, which will donate $1 per day to a charity of your choice when you post a photo on the app.
Clothes: Back-to-school shopping often revolves around buying new clothes, but you can definitely refresh your wardrobe without spending a ton of money. Head to the thrift shop if you’re in the mood for vintage supplies, or go to Plato’s Closet or Buffalo Exchange, which are lightly used clothing stores, if you’re looking for more current trends.
Lunchboxes: Bringing your own lunch for home, while requiring more work than buying it at school or at a restaurant nearby, is usually healthier and more economical in the long run; however, it does mean that you may end up using a ton of plastic bags and throwing away lots of pre-packaging. Consider using reusable containers for bringing lunch to school or work, and even napkins, provided you use fabric ones, can be reusable. Feel free to think outside the box in terms of containers, from using old army surplus containers to tiffins (often used in India for meals). Check this site for more ideas.