Behind every classroom door at Washington Elementary School is a group of students learning to give to others, their community and their planet, from picking up sticks outside the school before maintenance workers mow to installing weather stripping at home to use fewer nonrenewable resources.
Every single student has a "learn and serve" project, for the first time at the school.
After six years of Washington's fifth-graders taking on large-scale community service projects and some isolated projects in other classrooms, the entire school came together this year to take on even more.
KATE YORK The Marietta Times
Second-graders in Amy Mendenhall’s Washington Elementary School class work on a counting and measuring lesson recently with quarters they collected to benefit Washington County’s Relay for Life. Every student at the school is part of a service project this year for the first time.
"As a district we'd talked about being community-minded, and we just thought 'Why doesn't every grade take this on?'" said fifth-grade teacher Tasha Werry, who has helped with the fifth-grade projects each year. "We want to get them to try to think outside of themselves."
That means even the littlest learner is lending a hand.
Kindergartners and first-graders have collected cans to donate to the Marietta Community Food Pantry - which first required a little explanation.
Some of the projects
Collecting money for a school Relay for Life team.
Starting a school-wide, everyday fitness program.
Donating hand-sewn blankets and pillowcases to those in need.
Collecting canned goods for area food pantries.
Implementing energy efficiency devices and methods at home.
Collecting trash and planting flowers outside the school.
Visiting nursing home residents.
Participating in an Empty Bowls community soup luncheon.
Sending valentines to soldiers in Iraq and local nursing home residents.
"We talked about how we were providing food for someone who might not have it otherwise," said kindergarten teacher Susan Hale. "You can't just say it's going to the food pantry because most of them don't know what that is. I think we impressed on them that it's nice to give back, even if it's just a little bit."
Her class brought in 53 cans, also sorting them into food category groups as part of a graphing lesson.
"People brought in really cool stuff," said kindergarten student Jaylynn Wright, 6. "We were just trying to be nice and help people."
That help is being offered very close to home for the school's fourth-graders, who will work to clean and beautify the Washington Elementary grounds as their project as soon as the weather breaks.
"They'll be picking up trash on the playground and in front of the buildings ... and (fourth-grade teacher Nann) Welch had the idea that they could inspect the playground equipment for things like graffiti," said fourth-grade teacher Chrissy Wolfe. "Hopefully it will show them ownership and pride in taking care of things."
All the learn and serve projects are tailored for the specific age group, and many have an academic component attached.
Amy Mendenhall's second-grade class collected quarters for the Washington County Relay for Life, but instead of placing them in jars, they taped them to yard sticks.
"We were able to use them to practice counting and measuring," said Mendenhall. "And the kids did a great job. I'm really proud of them."
Some students are also reaching out to others in very direct ways.
About 30 "at-risk" students at the school, who may have had issues with social or behavioral skills, belong to a mentoring program that pairs them with a pal for fun activities, but once a month, the duos reach out to the senior residents at the Arbors of Marietta.
"You can see a difference in the students when they're at the Arbors - they're being well-behaved and they're socializing and enjoying themselves," said Title I teacher Jessie Abrecht-Burnett. "And the residents are so excited to see them. Their faces just light up."
The students and mentors, many of whom are Marietta Middle School students in the Junior National Honor Society, play bingo with the residents or just sit and chat.
"I think it really gives the kids a sense of taking part in the community," said Abrecht-Burnett.