I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. John 13:15 NIV
As Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, He shared a message of grace that has inspired generations for centuries. “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, we’re called to love and serve one another,” says Lower School religion teacher Jenny Koenig. “That help comes in many forms and can be a simple hug or sharing a homework assignment with a friend who doesn’t have it.” The message is so simple and relatable that even a child can grasp it, and that’s exactly what happened recently in Episcopal’s Lower School.
First quarter fifth grade religion students were tasked with organizing a campus service project. They studied service examples from the Bible to get inspiration for the project. As they studied stories such as the Good Samaritan, they suggested ideas ranging from a lemonade stand to blessing bags. Koenig says while these ideas were good, she wanted the students to create a project that would take place on campus and that would not require funds or resources. Her goal was for the students to do something that required their compassion or empathy, time and talent. As they delved deeper into biblical examples, Koenig showed students artistic depictions of Jesus washing the feet of His followers. There was even a video of an actor portraying Jesus as He knelt to perform this act of service. It was at this moment that a student said, “What if we help little kids learn to tie their shoes?” Koenig was blown away with the suggestion, and with the connection the student made between Jesus’ act of service and the act of service that the fifth graders could do today.
The students were enthusiastic about the project and quickly began planning. “They were 100% invested,” says Koenig. The students began the effort by deciding which age group to target. They observed their Lower School classmates and reported back that the kindergarten and first grade students seemed to be an ideal group. They had noticed the younger students dragging their shoelaces along beside them, tripping over long laces or holding up the line as they stopped to wrestle with the loops. Once the target grade was determined, the students spent the next few weeks planning. Koenig says they put their heart into helping their classmates. They role-played how to teach a younger student and they discussed the need for extra shoes to help students without laces. The project was infused with enthusiasm and joy. They named it the Happy Feet Clinic.
When the day finally arrived for the older students to teach their younger counterparts, there was much excitement among the fifth graders as they anticipated the arrival of their first grade friends. The older students were gracious hosts. “It’s lovely to meet you,” one student said after introducing herself. The students paired up and worked quietly together on the religion room rug. Fifth graders provided encouragement and patient instruction. With the shyness of a first grader, the younger students paid careful attention to the instruction and were eager to learn this important skill or even show off what they already knew about shoe tying. It was a remarkable and powerful moment.
Every first grader attending the Happy Feet Clinic received a handmade participation certificate. The fifth graders created more than 40 of these souvenirs, drawing and writing every detail. Koenig says they hoped the younger students would keep them to remember the experience. Several of the first graders also left with a new skill – the ability to tie their own shoe. There was shocked pride on their faces as they made the first loop and mastered this new skill. While not all of the students learned to tie their shoe, they all certainly gave it their best effort. Regardless, the fifth grade students were compassionate and kind.
Problem solving. The opportunity to teach another. Empowerment. Koenig says there was a lot more taking place at the Happy Feet Clinic than simply learning to tie a knot or make a bow. She says the students have bonded and they now speak to each other on campus. “Their perspective changed,” Koenig says. “They’ve seen that it can be that simple to help another.”
“It felt good knowing that we taught someone how to tie their shoe.”
“I never knew how fun tying shoes could be.”
“One of my buddies didn’t learn but it’s okay because he still tried very hard.”
“One thing I have learned is that tying shoes can be a big accomplishment.”
The Happy Feet Clinic was a simple gesture with a big impact. It’s a meaningful example of the Episcopal experience as an unexpected lesson makes a lasting impression. It’s also a great reminder of that ageless lesson taught so long ago. Like the fifth graders, we hope you’ll be inspired by the message. How will you serve today?