Princeton Friends Blends Curriculum with Community Outreach

John Zimmerman
This month, Princeton Friends School students participate in a major outreach project to support a county-wide effort in response to homelessness. On January 23rd, volunteers working with the Trenton/Mercer Continuum of Care will conduct a 24 hour count of people in Mercer County who are experiencing homelessness.  This effort helps determine the funding for programs that help the homeless and is a vital part of ensuring an accurate assessment of how many people are facing homelessness in Mercer County.
For more than 10 years, Princeton Friends School (PFS) has partnered with Princeton Monthly Meeting and students from neighboring Noor-ul-Iman, a local Islamic school, to create 500 bagged meals which are distributed to the homeless during the Point in Time Count.  The homeless count learning activities are part of a larger partnership between the two schools, which has been in place for nearly 20 years.
PFS and Princeton Monthly Meeting work together to collect items for the bagged meals.  Each grade level collects and contributes specific items, such as fruit, drinks and non-perishable proteins and snacks.  Beyond the donation, students consider why particular items are selected for collection and others are not. They consider the difficulties of homelessness and contemplate what can be done to reduce or eliminate homelessness in our community. They ponder queries, such as “What factors might lead to a person becoming homeless?” “Why do some people have so little and others have so much?”   Reflecting on these issues helps to foster empathy, build critical thinking skills, and increase awareness of the realities facing some members of our community.
In the days leading up to the count, second and third graders travel to a local grocery store to purchase items for the bagged meals. The students have a budget and work in small groups with their teacher to compare prices, look at labels, and make decisions about the best use of their limited funds. They purchase the items and bring them back to school. This authentic, service-based learning connects to our Central Study theme for the year, Food for Thought.
Leading up to the event, PFS first and second graders host the 1st graders from Noon-ul-Iman. After spending some time in “getting-to-know you” activities, the children work together to pack 500 bagged meals.  The project reflects both schools' commitment to service as well as our commitment to reaching across religious and cultural boundaries to create a connected community beyond our separate school campuses. After school, the entire PFS community make sandwiches that will be added to the bags and delivered to the Rescue Mission by parent volunteers.
Princeton Friends School is committed to providing students with dynamic, experiential learning as well as community outreach and student exchange programs that foster interaction and connection with those they might otherwise not encounter. 
A progressive, Quaker day school welcoming students in Pre-K through 8th grade to our historic Princeton campus nestled in the woods.