Students from the local school, including Freddy Ankowski, lost their annual Open House to the pandemic but chose to use their learning projects as an opportunity to support community members during the difficult times. Courtesy photos.

COVID-19 forced the cancellation of Open House celebrations at schools across the Westside this year, but the students of McKinley Elementary School refused to let the pandemic stop them from creating more than 100 virtual projects that aimed to help the community in a time of need.

Open House events are traditionally held at schools across the country throughout the year to allow parents the opportunity to see the work their children have completed, but Principal Ashley Benjamin said McKinley’s recent Global Citizenship Service Learning Projects sought to go above and beyond the pieces that are typically on display in the classroom.

At McKinley, Benjamin said, ‘our goal is to foster what we call ‘Deep Learning’ to develop the whole child. We help students to learn how they can contribute to the common good, address global challenges, and flourish in turbulent and complex times.”

One way this is achieved is through projects that seek to utilize different learning partnerships, pedagogical practices, learning environments, and digital technologies.

McKinley educators always aim to help students to develop the six global competencies — creativity, communication, citizenship, critical thinking, character, and collaboration, Benjamin added, mentioning how students become problem solvers and global citizens at the local elementary campus.

“Essentially, Deep Learning is a learning experience that helps students excel in academics and life,” she said.

When school was shut down in March, Benjamin knew she wanted to continue Deep Learning during the pandemic and believed the challenging time could actually serve as an opportunity for students to deepen their compassion, character, creativity, and global citizenship.

“We could all use some happiness during this difficult time, and helping others is a great way to bring some joy and light into our lives, so in order to raise the spirits of our students, they had the opportunity to use some of their distance learning time at home to do an optional ‘service-learning project,’” Benjamin said, which allowed students to find with creative ways to help their family, community and the world.

“Students were encouraged to use their passion and creativity to do service-learning projects that interested them, so they could feel empowered and good about making a positive impact,” according to Benjamin.

Most of the young scholars chose to tackle real-world problems like homelessness and how to help refugees while others sought to promote environmental conservation or inclusion and kindness. Health care workers and local food banks also benefited from the projects.

“We then did a re-imagined Open House that was virtual, where we featured these Coronavirus Global Citizenship Service Learning projects on a website that families and the community could view and enjoy,” she said. “And I must say it was really wonderful to virtually come together as a school family to celebrate our students as academic learners and global citizens making a positive impact on the community and world. All the wonderful projects brought some joy and light to both our students and to others during this difficult time, and I am so proud of how our students stepped up to make a difference.”

To view the more than 100 service-learning projects, residents can visit the website