The teachable moments are an educator’s dream.
That’s how Ramin Mehrassa, the principal of Webster’s Corners elementary, views the time he spends with his students volunteering their lunch hours at the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries.
Moments like the time he said hello to a man that he used to play street hockey with as he was serving coffee to a line of people at the shelter. When one of his students asked him if he knew the disheveled man, Mehrassa explained how the man, the same age as himself, got into drugs and that’s why he needed help.
Another moment Mehrassa fondly remembers was when he was serving food with a Grade 6 student who told him she would always go home at the end of the school day and tell her mother that there was nothing in the fridge to eat. Something, she told Mehrassa, that she would never do again.
“That’s the kind of stuff you hope for them to see and understand,” said Mehrassa.
Almost every Wednesday and Friday throughout the school year a group of two and three students between Grades 4 and 7 at the school head to the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries to help in the kitchen. They make and serve the lunch-hour meal and wash the dishes afterwards.
Students at the school have been volunteering there for three years now. The first year Mehrassa asked for participants 15 students volunteered their time. This year between 40 and 50 students at the school volunteered to rotate their time at the local shelter.
The volunteer work is part of the school’s PEAK program that emphasizes leadership, community and service and focuses on giving back to the community, promoting empathy, kindness and caring.
“The idea was we were going to do service to the community, our own community and the general community,” said school principal Ramin Mehrassa.
“I just saw for our kids that it’s important to volunteer and to know what it is like to help people who need help,” he said.
Mehrassa not only sees the importance of giving back to the community, but another classroom in which to teach his students.
During the 15 minute drive to the shelter he thanks the students for volunteering and tells them that they might see people shouting or swearing at one another, or people that might need medical help, a result, he tells his students, of drug abuse, mental health issues, or other things that, “we just don’t know about”.
“We don’t judge, we just help,” he tells them.
Mehrassa also reminds his students about the idea of altruism and helping others without being rewarded.
“At the end of the year I buy them one doughnut each, so they know they are not doing it for the prize.”