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SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- "Good morning," Kristie Petersen half sings to a group of gathering kindergartners at Mounds Park Academy in St. Paul. "We have a very important job today."

The hard work is actually over,and the reward is about to come. These students have spent weeks raising money and shopping for food they will donate to the Little Kitchen Food Shelf, operated by Northeast Community Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. Today they will count their purchases to determine how much food they are donating.

The actual food drive debuted at the school last year. Students made a sizable donation.

"And I thought that was great, but now what?" said Petersen.

The "now what" turned into an opportunity to create a service learning project, where Peterson and fellow kindergarten teacher Katy Selb incorporated various elements of learning around the tasks required to complete the food drive.

It started with the money the children raised through chores at home. Students didn't just bring the money to their classroom. They had to count it, and then used the money for a history lesson.

"We read about each president and they had to record five facts about each coin and the president on that coin," explained Petersen.

Students formulated budgets based on what they earned for their venture. Then they headed to Kowalski's, which kicked in another $300 forthe project.

"They then had to record what they were purchasing, and they had to keep track of the amounts because they each had their own budget," said Petersen. "They put a lot of thought into standing back and saying, 'Ok,what should we get?'"

With parents in hand, students learned about reading labels, how to chose the product with the best price, and then they took their purchases and created a math lesson. "And so they would take their food and say, 'I've got three cans and four cylindars and add that together," said Petersen. "I love tying everything together and incorporating all the areas of learning together, it seemed real natural."

The math lesson continued back at the school, where students laid out their food purchases and proceeded to count them. Not by simple counting, but by arrangingfood into piles of ten, then estimating the number of items, and finally counting all the food by tens to get the actual number. Many steps, and each one a critical skill for a kindergartner to learn.

As Petersen was overseeing those efforts, Selb instructed another group of kindergartners on the finer points of thank you notes for Kowalski's.

No matter the students are just beginning to learn how to read, they use what Selb refers to as "temporary spelling," or phonetic spelling to get the job done. It helps students grasp what a sentence looks like, and practice their letters.

Finally, the students hear from Craig Pederson, who oversees the food shelf, and tells the students their food will help feed the 600 or so people who rely on The Little Kitchen Food Shelf to help them put food on the table. "Of those 600 people, about half of them are children," said Pederson, who is now giving the students a lesson in empathy.

It's all a part of the process for Katie Petersen, who believes service learning is a great way to teach life skills, academic skills, and perhaps the most valuable lesson of all: their own power.

"Young children have that capacity to learn so much and to take everything so much further," explained Petersen. "I might plant the seek, but they take it in the direction it needs tobe taken in."

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