Wauwatosa Catholic fourth graders boxed up more than 500 books they collected as a service project. (Submitted photo)

Deanna Carr’s fourth grade class at Wauwatosa Catholic School has been putting faith into action this year.

“We’ve been trying to pair service projects along with the concept the religion book is teaching so we’re not just hearing about it, but we’re actually acting out the things that we’re being taught,” Carr said.

Carr, a 16-year veteran teacher, lets parents of her students know that fourth grade is the “year of independence.” As she gets them ready for middle and high school, she allows them to take the lead and empowers them to oversee projects themselves.

This year’s class of six students is small, so Carr has used the opportunity to provide more tailored instruction and opportunities for enrichment. Empowering the students to take charge of something important to them provides opportunities for growth — intellectually and spiritually.

Carr explained that following her students’ leads and embracing their passions helps to make projects more successful. This book drive was no different. During a brainstorming session, her class decided on a book drive: “We have a lot of book racks in our classroom. We wanted to give the gift to others.”

From there, her students took over. The students created flyers that were sent home with each Wauwatosa Catholic student, counted the books and boxed them. Carr stepped away as much as possible, allowing them to take ownership of the project.

The book drive at Wauwatosa Catholic, the school sponsored by St. Pius X and St. Bernard parishes, exceeded expectations.

At first, the students set a goal of 100 books. Carr challenged them to set the goal a bit higher, and the class decided to shoot for 250 books. Ultimately, the students gathered 547 books. The school-wide collection was well received by all the students, many of whom would comment on the goal meter in the hallway while at their lockers. While packing up the books, students had a small trip down memory lane and held up books they remembered from when they were younger.

The books were donated to the Next Door Foundation, Milwaukee, which supports the intellectual, physical and emotional development of children from birth to age 5 by partnering with their families for success in school and the community.

Next Door’s website notes that “Research shows that the number of books available to a child may surpass all other variables in predicting their long-term success in school.” Its Books for Kids program has supplied more than 1 million books to children across Milwaukee since 1990.