You've heard the clichés: Teenagers these days are just punks, running wild and shrugging off responsibility.
A new class at Hamilton Middle School aims to crush that unfair - and untrue - stereotype by engaging students with the community in a new way: getting their hands a little dirty with community service projects. On Wednesday afternoon, a class of seventh-graders spent a class hour raking and bagging leaves for several elderly folks who live near the school, one of dozens of altruistic acts they will undertake this fall.
According to Hamilton Middle School principal Dan Kimzey, the goal is to change the perception of how the community views local kids.
"The staff and parents know we have a school full of excellent students who are hardworking, courteous and all-around great kids," Kimzey said. "But sometimes the community at large - particularly the elderly and those who have no association with the schools - do not see what we see. The idea for a School Community Service class arose last spring - to show the community that most students are positive, service oriented and contributing members of society."
The new class is taught by eighth-grade teacher Donna Feight, who said that HMS developed the class with the intent of teaching students the importance of their role in the community as a whole, to give them exposure to the intrinsic rewards of doing good work for the benefit of others, and to provide positive visibility of students in all parts of the community.
"It's been awesome, the kids love getting out," she said. "The people come out and interact with the kids and tell them how much they appreciate it. The kids are realizing there is a need in the community, and by giving they are receiving too."
Kimzey said his original goal was to put together the class as an exploratory venture, and Feight was the perfect teacher to lead the charge.
"Donna Feight is one of those teachers who are constantly involved in service work outside of the classroom and school," said Kimzey. "She is truly one of those teachers for whom service to her community is second-nature."
Feight has been developing ideas and is excited to be teaching kids the importance of serving their community as well as organizing meaningful activities and lining up work. She plans to have her students help out with shoveling snow and scraping car windows this winter, and next spring they will implement an adopt-a-grandparent program. The students will partner with a resident at an elderly care home in town, and hopefully learn something from their older counterpart such as fly-tying, knitting or woodworking.
"It is so cool to see the kids pitching in," She said. "Kids can learn a lot of compassion through these projects and the community gets to see that the majority of our kids are totally awesome!"
Feight said that comments from community members have all been positive.
"Mr. Hadlow (who had his lawn raked by HMS students) called this morning to thank the kids again and said he was so amazed with the preparation ahead of arrival, the energy the kids had and the amount of work they got done in such a short time," she said. "He said he is grateful and that the community is lucky to have a service like this."
HMS students are enjoying the class as well, according to Feight.
"The kids said it felt really good to help other people and that Mr. Hadlow was cool to come out and help us sack the leaves," she said.
As this project has grown, mainly through word of mouth, HMS has received many calls from home-bound elderly and other community members who need assistance with raking leaves, snow shoveling, and other routine labor which the HMS students are able to perform.
Feight is currently applying for a $1,000 grant from State Farm Insurance to buy equipment, and several businesses in Hamilton have donated rakes, paint and other supplies.
"I predict that School Community Service will grow into something very special for Hamilton Middle School and the entire school community," Kimzey said.
Reach reporter David Erickson at 363-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.