Merriam Park Elementary’s efforts to connect what kids are learning in the classroom with opportunities to serve their communities have made it an example for other Kansas schools.
Merriam Park this month received a Promising Practice award through the Kansas Department of Education’s KansasCAN initiatives and the Kansas Volunteer Commission. The award was given in recognition of the school’s Bear Den program. Merriam Park’s Bear Dens bring students from different grade levels together twice a month to discuss leadership, values and community. Each Bear Den is led by a member of the school staff — from the principal to the custodians.
“Every kid deserves to have an adult in their life who cares for them and supports them, at least one adult champion in their corner,” said Merriam Park Instructional Coach Dustin Springer, who spearheaded the initiative at the school.
In addition to fostering friendships among students of various ages and giving students the chance to think about non-academic goals, the Bear Dens also serve as a catalyst for community service. Last year, the Bear Dens worked with Hocker Grove and Shawnee Mission North on a canned food drive for Merriam Christian Church’s food pantry. This year, the groups are collecting shoes to donate.
Springer said the sense of community these projects foster is almost tangible.
“There’s this sense of pride among the kids and the staff and the parents alike,” Springer said. “Everyone is looking out for one another. It’s a great thing to see when you’re doing something for the community.”
A dozen schools were honored at the ceremony this week. The De Soto School District’s Starside Elementary was the only other school in the county to receive a Promising Practice award.