Ethics, Applied

School News
November 6, 2018- There's a new community assistance project in Eagle County called the Eagle River Valley Food Bank that has spawned from Our Community Foundation. They are a mobile food pantry service that provides food drop-offs containing a mixture of fresh and packaged food items designed to provide at least seven meals per person, per household. And while the Food Pantry has the support of many larger entities and volunteers eager to help, they are working overtime to deliver on their mission while simultaneously tackling the challenges faced by any nascent startup.

Enter Brian Sweeny’s Applied Ethics Class. 

Working in partnership with the Food Bank, with Students Shoulder to Shoulder(SStS), and with SStS partner, Design for Change USA, Mr. Sweeney is cultivating a service learning opportunity for his students that takes a classic ethics survey class and supercharges it with an infusion of meaning and action through design thinking and project-based learning. 

A few weeks ago, Brian Sweeney's Applied Ethics class spent the day working at the Food Bank's warehouse in Gypsum. And while they helped with typical volunteer leg work, they also offered their thoughts and ideas through design thinking exercises facilitated by Design for Change.

Working side by side with the Food Bank's leadership team, students brainstormed ways to increase efficiency and decrease waste through sustainable practices, and how to maximize communication and marketing to meet the needs of our community members most in need of food access—two of their biggest challenges. 

But this is just the beginning of the partnership. Over the course of this year, Mr. Sweeney’s class will continue to work with the Food Bank on solutions to challenges they face. This includes both opportunities to serve through food rescue and food distribution, as well as helping tackle design thinking challenges. A final project for this course will ask students to think creatively about how they, and the VMS community, can support the efforts of the Eagle River Valley Food Bank. 

But back to Ethics. This course also represents and aspiration of Mr. Sweeney’s to take the classic ethics course to the next level. “I wanted to focus more on ‘applied’ ethics, moving beyond the frameworks presented by religions and philosophies to think not only about the theoretical practice of ethical decision making, but also encouraging my students to think about what ethics looks like in a tangible, active, sense,” says Sweeney. “Our partnership with the Food Bank will enable our students to get out of the classroom and engage in meaningful service learning work in our community.”

According to Sweeney, students often struggle to distinguish between ethics and morality, but as a result of this “applied” approach, he’s seen that many of his students are able to see beyond abstract ethical principles and better understand the distinction.

“Ethics is about acting on one's morals,” says Sweeney. “By incorporating this service learning project, we've enabled our students to more clearly see this distinction between understanding what is ethical and actually acting on that understanding. Many students are motivated by the more hands-on work with authentic outcomes that is characteristic of project-based learning. The challenge they have been presented—of developing strategies for the Eagle River Valley Food Bank that increase efficiency for this local non-profit—will have a direct impact on our communities, adding additional incentive and motivation for our students.”