A Little "Extra" Project Heart!

July 16, 2021

Project Heart for PBL and SEL in the Middle Grades (3rd-7th)

How do you "...capitalize on students' innate abilities to give back and help them put their hearts to work in amazing ways to become mini-philanthropists and youth leaders?" Just ask the STAR Squad Leadership Club students, led by Shepardson STEM Elementary PBL and STEM Coordinator, Becky Woodcox!

Each year Mrs. Woodcox leads 30-40 amazing third through fifth grade students to "...work together to find ways to serve our school, our community, to be examples of good, and to learn leadership skills. In a typical school year, we hold STAR Squad once a month before school meetings and then go about implementing lots of fun projects, like hosting school spirit days, accomplishing service projects around the school, finding ways to give back to our community, and having all sorts of fun!" As many of you can relate, COVID changed everything.

Instead of canceling the STAR Squad club, Mrs. Woodcox used the difficult year in remote learning to innovate! In her own words, "Meeting remotely with STAR Squad weekly actually gave me a marvelous opportunity to engage the kids in Project Heart. With [OtterCares Impact and Education Director] Sarah Weeks' help, we capitalized on what we would normally do through PBL at Shepardson, mixed in some design thinking activities, and jumped in with a condensed 'club' version of Project Heart. At Shepardson we take great pride in helping students realize that they have a voice and can impact others with their time, talents, treasures and personal passions, and Project Heart was the perfect catalyst to give the students some amazing opportunities for learning and service."

After six weeks of lessons, once a week for only 45 minutes, the students self-selected into three areas; feeding hungry people, wildfire relief, and helping animals. The final lessons included small group collaboration to write a grant request through The OtterCares Illumination Fund. Highlights include: 


The Feeding Hungry People group organized a food drive to support a local food pantry they has a researched. Their marketing campaign included announcements on the school news, artistic posters and talking to friends and family. Their goal was to collect 1,000 non-perishable items, but by making it into a classroom contest and graphing results for each of the three weeks, they more than tripled their goal!

Additionally, their efforts were matched with a $450 donation through the Illumination Fund.


The Wildfire Relief group originally wanted to create care packages with socks, snacks and other items for firefighters battling what ended up being Colorado's largest wildfire only a few miles from them. Even one of their own teachers had been displaced during the time of Project Heart learning.

Fortunately, when it came to time execute their impact project, the fire was out and this group got back to researching how to meet needs. That's when they discovered the effects of fires on the local watershed, and the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado had a special fund to help mitigate the impact and improve water in their area. The kids were blown away when they were able to collect more than double their goal through a coin drive competition, small change added up to $1,650 so they were able to donate over $2,000!!

The Helping Animals group learned about the problem of keeping wild animals as pets, and how The Wild Animal Sanctuary is providing care for those animals. Because of COVID restrictions and no visits allowed, the organization's main source of income disappeared. These kids knew their community was tired of simply being asked for money, so they planned for a raffle. 


That's when they learned that raffles require a special license, so they pivoted. After developing an "Ask Kit", a couple of the group members conducted Zoom calls with family members where they asked them to donate bracelets, stadium cups and medallions - all of which were purchased from The Wild Animal Sanctuary gift shop. Once prizes were secured, they ran a class competition and were awarded matching funds through the Illumination Fund for a total donation of almost $1,400 - that helped cover a lot of missed visits!


All of these kids practiced Gold Standard PBL by choosing authentic problems relevant to them, then used collaboration and community partnerships to create a solution. Additionally, they tapped into the important SEL competencies of social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making. Not only were they incredibly proud of their accomplishments when awarded Illumination Funding, but they all left changed with more awareness of the problems around them and the confidence to know they can make a difference by activating their time, talent and treasures.

To hear more, check out The OtterCares Podcast Season 2, Episode 7 wherever you subscribe to your podcasts. You can also find all of the lessons used with STAR Squad through the Project Heart Resources page.

Becky Woodcox

Mrs. Woodcox left us with these parting thoughts: "The kids are natural philanthropists – it didn’t even seem like we were presenting a big concept to them – they jumped right in and their enthusiasm pulled our whole school community together! I think most of them might be better suited for philanthropy and giving back than many adults!"

"My favorite part of all this was seeing the kids so excited about what they could do and accomplish. I loved seeing the joy they felt as they succeeded. Their enthusiasm was infectious, and my teacher heart is just beaming with pride! The kids are already talking about next time, so we are hooked on Project Heart and what can be accomplished by participating in this wonderful program."

"My advice to other educators considering integrating Project Heart into clubs or programs in their school would be to jump in and do it. It is so worth it! Be a guide but be willing to give your kids the reins and let them run with their passions and ideas. I’m sure you’ll be amazed at what the kids are able to do and accomplish." 

You can contact Becky Woodcox at bwoodcox@psdschools.org.