With more than 200 jars of peanut butter and jelly in tow, choral students from Princeton Elementary School boarded a bus for Washington, D.C., not just to perform but to give back to the community.
On April 4, a group of 40 fifth-graders, parents and school staffers made the trek north to take part in the 25th annual America Sings festival. The event encourages students to combine music with charitable service, said the school’s music teacher, Hollie Heller.
“I actually participated in the first one as a freshman in high school,” Heller said. “This is a great way for our kids to have an opportunity to give back. America Sings is put on with the premise of both song and service.”
The Princeton students spent months rehearsing six songs for their 20-minute performance. They also learned four numbers, including choreography, for a mass finale concert held on the lawn of the National Mall. Their parents took part in the finale.
From the jars of peanut butter and jelly, the Princeton group made more than 2,000 sandwiches for the Central Union Mission. Students and their parents donned gloves and worked in an assembly line under a tent set up by the soup kitchen.
“It was very humbling and a valuable lesson for our children,” said Amy Morgan, who accompanied son Grayson, 10, on the trip. “It’s important for them to learn how to give back and recognize there are others in need around you.”
The two-day trip also included time for sightseeing. Lisa Rice and daughter Irena, 11, enjoyed outings to the Lincoln Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery and the National World War II Memorial.
“It was very fast paced, but we were able to squeeze in a lot on this trip,” Rice said. “It’s exciting to be a part of a weekend that included schools from all over the country that all gathered for the same reason. There was a lot of hope and encouragement for our children to be leaders.”
An estimated 1,500 students from more than a dozen schools took part in the festival. At the end of the weekend, participants received $25 from event organizers to make a difference in their home communities. Grayson Morgan and Irena Rice haven’t yet decided where their dollars will go. Both parents say they are taking the challenge seriously and still contemplating which charities to support.
“For many of my students, this was the first time to have an opportunity to go out of state,” said Heller, the music teacher. “It was a very memorable experience, and everyone had a great time.”