Planting the Seeds

Planting the Seeds

Planting the Seeds a capstone experience for 8th grade students

“You are not unchanged.” – Ms. Eick

Planting the Seeds is an intensive learning experience for TOPS 8th grade students. The kids spend three days volunteering with organizations that serve people experiencing homelessness and working to ensure all people have a safe home. It is an opportunity for students to learn through service. It challenges students to work together with their peers, become more acquainted with our city, and, in the words of the TOPS Mission Statement, “to understand and honor diversity, to respect and care for themselves and others, to be responsible.”

stock on shelves

What are the objectives of Planting the Seeds?

  • Our TOPS community works together to support kids, families and individuals who are living without a home in our city.
  • 8th graders at TOPS work together thoughtfully and respectfully to complete their volunteer tasks and manage the challenges they encounter over the three days, learning and working together with the adults who are there to support them.
  • Students learn about the root causes of homelessness. They learn about how history, public policy and individual experiences all have a role in causing homelessness.
  • Students and our entire community learn about strategies to ensure everyone in our community has a safe place to live, and how to be an advocate.
  • Students deepen their empathy and compassion, with the opportunity to carry forward the seeds of compassion planted in their hearts and minds into their daily lives.

What is the history of Planting the Seeds?

Planting the Seeds was started by former 8th grade teacher Lori Eickelberg (now retired). From the start it has been made possible by the whole TOPS community. It was modeled on a similar program at Seattle Arts and Sciences Academy. It has evolved over the years into a tradition at TOPS and an important part of 8th graders’ educational experience. The first planting the seeds at TOPS was in 2008, the same year His Holiness the Dalai Lama came to Seattle for a 5-day event called Seeds of Compassion. That inspired the name “Planting the Seeds’. 

What do our students do for three days?

dryer and students

Students are divided into groups of six to eight with an adult staff leader. Over the course of the three days, they will volunteer at several organizations and agencies that serve and empower adults and children who are experiencing poverty or homelessness. Students may cook, make sandwiches, clean classrooms, assemble toiletry kits, sort food, play games, and more. They learn about the organizations and leaders who work to protect and support people, youth and families who are struggling; food banks, shelters, day and hygiene centers, transitional housing, and advocacy organizations. They spend time with people living without a safe, secure home and learn about the challenges they face and the courage and resilience required for daily survival without a home. Students work together to carry out their tasks. They read maps and bus schedules, travel on foot or by bus, carrying their clothes on their backs. They learn about each other and about themselves. Each afternoon, they write reflections in their journals.

What do they eat?

Students eat sack meals assembled and delivered by TOPS parent volunteers. If they’re lucky, they eat a meal they have helped to make at an agency with homeless guests.

students washing dishes

How is this experience accessible to all 8th grade students?

The organizers are committed to ensuring all students can participate. Parents, guardians or students are invited to talk to Mr. Nick (staff lead) or Kathy Hanson (school counselor) about any barriers to participation and how to address them. 

How do our youth prepare for this experience?

The immersion experience is embedded within a curriculum that teaches students about causes of and solutions to homelessness and the realities and experiences of people experiencing homelessness. Students read books and articles, watch videos about homelessness and hear from guest speakers. They have an orientation to develop skills in serving as volunteers effectively and respectfully.

students with backpacks walking

How is the whole TOPS community involved in Planting the Seeds?

Planting the Seeds is a community effort. 8th grade families are asked to help with the planning, organizing, and schlepping of gear during the Seeds experience. Staff leaders are drawn from different grades. Teachers staying at school take on extra work to support their colleagues. 

Each year 5th grade families are asked to coordinate a school-wide canned food drive, 6th grade families are asked to collect hygiene items, and 7th families are asked to bake “sweet treats” for students to share at agencies. These contributions help ensure that as TOPS students gain from their volunteer experiences, they also give meaningful support to the agencies they visit and the people they support. Other grades or groups of students and families are invited to come up with ideas for how to support and get involved. 

To contact someone regarding this program, please email: