Pajama Service Project Inspires Student Empathy

On Black Friday 2021, second-grade teacher Sarah Ferrell purchased 180 pairs of pajamas in preparation for a service-learning project. Partnering with kindergarten teacher Sherlyn Burns, kindergarten through second-grade students could visit the pajama shop, wrap PJs and make a card, and the items would then be distributed to underserved Pasadena children through the Pajama Project along with a Scholastic book. Students eagerly asked about the numerous boxes and bags of pajamas living under Sarah's desk until the pajama shop finally opened.

The service-learning project is helping the Pasadena community, but also teaching students an important lesson in “pre-empathy.” Sherlyn and Sarah shared that empathy is an important lesson taught in the lower school but students cannot fully grasp the concept until age five or six. 

Students learned from a lesson that some children do not have new pajamas or books in their home life and were asked to consider the experience to build empathy. Students were asked not to form judgments but instead find common ground.

“The idea of empathy is one of our core pillars of our Second Step program,” said Sarah. “The Second Step program has a whole section on empathy and how you talk through a conversation where you're feeling sorry for someone versus really stepping into their shoes and understanding their situation is different. The idea is that everyone likes new pajamas and a feeling of feeling safe and feeling cozy. So how can we create opportunities for children to notice that without being told the answer to the question?”

The lesson prompted students to be grateful for the things they have and also understand differences in living situations for fellow children in Pasadena and beyond. The project was so successful for grades K-2 that Sherlyn and Sarah hope to bring the program to additional grades in the Lower School in the future.