In 2015, Sean Fitzgerald had an epiphany. Driving home after helping some family members move, he had an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment and purpose for having helped someone else. A fourth grade teacher at the Richard J. Murphy K-8 School in Boston, he began to wonder how he could help his students experience that same sense of purpose and joy. That’s when BTru, his initiative to promote altruism among students, was born.
“I realized altruism was another way to meet the needs of children, especially our most at-risk children or a marginalized population,” Fitzgerald says.
He talked to his students about problems they saw in their community and asked them for their ideas on what they could do to make a difference. Together, they came up with service projects they could do to help others in their school. That year, he had a tough class, including two students with documented bullying behavior in the past. The class embraced the weekly service projects.
“It was a mission to make our (greater) community better and right away it improved our own community. These really difficult to reach students were now becoming leaders,” Fitzgerald says. “Suspension rates and behavioral reports went down. It was transformative for this group of kids.”
Since then, Fitzgerald has continued doing service projects with students every year, using the slogan “we not me.” He says altruism can build skills that go beyond typical social emotional learning programs.
“Altruism builds self esteem and builds relationships. It increases serotonin levels and reduces stress,” he says. “It’s really embedded in everything we do.”
One year the students researched inspirational messages and made wooden signs with those messages for the specialists in their school. They used Google slides to design anonymous thank you notes to go with them. Other projects have included decorating donated aprons for the cafeteria staff and making monster bookmarks to share with the kindergarteners. Each year he brings his students to the Bostonian Rehab and Nursing Center to give students the opportunity to bring joy to residents there.
“We’re trying to build this whole idea of inclusivity and making connections,” Fitzgerald says.
Fitzgerald documents his projects on the BTru Facebook page. He says one of the challenges is coming up with new projects that will benefit different groups of people, but as more people in the community learn about the program, more ideas will arise. He points out that projects will vary in different districts and different classrooms, but all students should have the opportunity to experience the benefits of serving others.
“The private schools do community service really well,” Fitzgerald says. “Let’s give our (public school) kids experiences where they can elevate their self-esteem – where they can feel a sense of purpose and connection to their community.”
Fitzgerald is expanding his altruism efforts this year with a Btru website and several other teachers in his school who will be doing service projects with their students. He also has a school in another community that is piloting the program there. He has built a curriculum that he hopes other teachers can use and adapt to their classrooms in the future. He says it’s all in an effort to find new ways to help students realize their potential.
“This is something that I hope is becoming part of the fabric of their character,” Fitzgerald says. “So no matter what they do in the future, in their careers, I’m hoping this will be at their core. Then I’ll know I’ve done my job.”
Sean Fitzgerald, currently a teacher with the Boston Public Schools, has 28 years of teaching experience as a general educator and ESL teacher. During his collegiate basketball career at Clark University, it was through coaching youth sports that he discovered his passion for education and volunteerism. Combining his love for technology with a collaborative team-oriented approach, Sean strives to inspire and engage every student he encounters. All of these experiences led Sean to create BTru, a community service-based program designed to introduce his students to the concept of altruism and its impact on communities. Sean recently received the Kippy Dewey Volunteer Service Award in recognition of this work, and he has been a featured guest on the “Elements of Stiles” podcast, where he shared insights into his teaching approach, and how he leverages the practice of altruism to improve the lives of others.Print this post