For the past several years, community service has been a part of education for students in seventh grade at Bellbrook Middle School.
Eagle Outreach is a trimester-long class in which students create their own project that focuses on community service – whether it be donations or giving of their time and talents to those in need.
And that community service can be just about anything the students can think up. From crocheting blankets for senior citizens to donation drives for Shoes for the Shoeless to working with 4 Paws for Ability.
Emily Cline, who has been with Bellbrook for six years, was handed a dream task by former middle school principal Jenness Sigman.
The class would be for seventh- grade students not involved in band or choir at the middle school. Cline said Sigman came to her and told her to design a class of what she thought 7th graders would need. So she reached out to friends from her previous job – she was fairly new to the school district at the time – and she found one of them was teaching a service project through their social studies class.
She liked the fit for a town like Bellbrook. “As someone who grew up here, I thought you had to go elsewhere to find a need. People live nice lives here,” Cline said. “Some of these students don’t know how privileged we are to grow up in such a wonderful community. But even in a community like this one, there’s need.”
Cline said the class is anything but a blow-off, easy A. There are four units throughout the trimester. The first is finding out about service learning. They explore various nonprofits in the area and figure out what best fits their interest. Cline said without those two things matching up, it can be a difficult task for students. She said she found the best projects are always the ones the students are highly interested in.
Then there is a planning phase. Students plan their projects and reach out – sometimes with Cline’s assistance – to where they’d like to participate in their project, and create a schedule.
The third step is actually doing the work. Students are allowed – if they have transportation – to leave with a guardian during their class time to carry out their project. Whether it be tutoring at Bell Creek, spending time at the senior center or organizing shelves at the food pantry, they are spending class time doing the work.
“These are big 12-hour-at-a-time commitments,” Cline said. “We want them to get their hands dirty and get in it. We want them to fail forward and work through problems that might arise.”
The students then have a reflection period. They figure out what went well, what they can improve and even have an open house presentation where parents and family members can come and learn about the service projects they and their classmates participated in. They offer final reflections to close the class on what they learned and why community service matters.
“My favorite part is usually the 4-5 minutes at the end of class when a student returns from their project and they tell me all about what they were doing and they are so excited,” Cline said. “I am learning all about them and these skills I had no idea they had. There are a lot of these projects that are close to my heart. The earlier these kids get into volunteering, the better.”