By Erin Shakespeare, Deputy Executive Director
By the numbers (and by design!), Penny Harvest results are easy to measure. Students can say, “We filled 25 sacks–that’s 750 pounds of pennies!”
Another way to think about results (or outcomes) is to look at the program’s growth and success over time. We know our program works, because it sticks: more than 70% of New York City’s schools regularly participate, and the program grows every year. Once children experience and master helping others through a Penny Harvest, they start to believe in themselves and their ability to make a real difference. And next year they want to do it again, and do more. “Each year the Penny Harvest has branched into more projects, and it has become an even more rewarding experience,” said Debbie Sigismondo at IS 381 in Brooklyn. “Students come to identify the roundtable as the ‘go-to’ students for charity and service. The Penny Harvest students become strong advocates and team members.”
While the pennies are easy to count, and the program’s sustainability within the schools is clear, measuring (and proving) other results – the program’s impact on the hundreds of thousands of children who participate – isn’t as straightforward.
Dr. Chris Weiss, the Director of Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences at Columbia University and Common Cents joined forces to measure the program’s social, civic and academic impacts on children. When asked about the study, Dr. Weiss explains, “What is most unique about the Penny Harvest is that it involves very young children in large numbers. These kinds of aspects of children’s lives – social and civic development – are rarely measured for kids this young, and in a school setting.”
Dr. Weiss surveyed Penny Harvest Coaches and other teachers across the New York City, getting input from over 200 teachers involved with the program about the impact on participating students and on their schools. They reported students who participate gain self-confidence and the self-awareness that they can make a difference. The teachers saw participating students’ sharpen their teamwork, communication and leadership skills and increase their effort academically. Importantly, teachers said they see students carry these positive impacts over time. In addition, teachers reported the program connects their schools to people and resources in the surrounding community and helps to get parents involved. (Please see the chart above for a few survey highlights.)
Of his experiences working in the schools, Dr. Weiss commented, “One of the things that has been most surprising to me so far is seeing just how many kids are active in their neighborhoods as a result of this program. The Penny Harvest is the way these children serve their community.”