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Tuesday, Apr 23, 2019
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Middle schoolers learning how to give back

LITHIA - Some walk into Kristy Verdi's classroom with no real idea of what community service is. They've never fed the homeless, participated in a veterans' ceremony or painted a house for an indigent elderly neighbor. Others have seen the RAYS program at work and couldn't wait to dive in. RAYS – Randall Area Youth Services – a leadership program at Randall Middle School - combines community service with education. The concept is called service learning and it teaches students how to branch out and help not only their fellow classmates, but their fellow human beings.
Students in this class that started out as a club and evolved into an elective credit, use eight standards – meaningful service, link to curriculum, reflection, diversity, youth voice, partnerships, progress monitoring and duration and intensity to drive their projects. A withered corner of an otherwise pristine campus will soon be transformed into the Sundance Garden, a reading garden the RAYS and other school groups will set up to encourage literacy. It is named for a therapy dog that once sat beside students as they read as a way to encourage the activity. Meanwhile, inside Verdi's classroom, they have broken into groups to plan a Veterans Day ceremony that will educate their classmates, they are planned and carried out a Support Our Troops collection campaign and they are devising a lesson for the Great American Teach-in, to pass on their knowledge of community service. The program's funding, which had come from federal grants for the past four years, has dried up as a result of budget cuts in Washington, D.C., Verdi said. Still, students press on. "My family members have served in the wars, so I wanted to be able to give back," said seventh-grader Christine Beavers. Nathan James, also a seventh-grader, applied to get into the class so he could learn more about how to help his community. "It teaches you about service and that the community needs your help," said eighth-grader Emily Morgan. "I want to go help in an animal shelter or cleaning up neighborhoods." "Over the past two years, I have trained about 150 teachers and this year, two or three other schools are offering the service-learning class," Verdi said. "It's hard to measure the impact," she said, but even during this first quarter of school, the students appear to be all in. "A lot of the kids didn't understand what community service is before coming into this class," Verdi said. "They think it's just something they have to do to get into college." After dipping in to the RAYS curriculum, they're doing recycling projects, learning why communities celebrate Patriot's Day and generally learning how to reach out.

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