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Teens complete 47 service projects in one day

Jun 29, 2018 03:21PM ● Published by Jet Burnham

Students spend hours uncovering a long-neglected classroom garden. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | j.burnham@mycityjournals.com

With only a few days left of school, students at Eisenhower Junior High didn’t go to class on May 24. Instead, they picked up trash in nearby parks, chalked positive messages on sidewalks and volunteered at local nonprofit organizations. 

The 1,200 students and staff completed 47 service projects  in just one morning. 

“We did something productive instead of just hang out and watch movies, which is what I did last year,” said science teacher Gabby Gladstone. 

A committee of six teachers and administrators coordinated the projects. 

“Our goal was to get the students doing something valuable the last week of school,” said Brittany Fellows, who introduced the idea of a day of service. 

Students rotated through projects set up in classrooms. They made sleeping mats, art kits and hygiene kits for the homeless. They wrote cards to soldiers and hospital patients. For the Humane Society, they made cat beds out of rolled cardboard and snuffle mats out of rags. 

“It's nice I’m helping out,” said Valor Goff, an eighth-grader who helped tie quilts and knit hats. “I don’t know who I’m helping, but at least I’m helping.” 

Tifanie Fitzgerland, a behavioral health assistant at the school, said once the students got working, they had a very good attitude about it.

“I think it gives them the chance to see that they do like helping and they do like giving,” she said. “They have the opportunity to see what they can offer—because a lot don’t know what they can offer.” 

Some projects were for the school—cleaning out lockers and weeding. One group of students weeded a school garden that has been neglected for years. 

“It’s like a secret garden that no one knew about,” said Fitzgerland.

Mike Valdez, who teaches earth science, said students pulled out invasive and overgrown plants so the garden can be used for educational purposes. 

Some students thought the weeding project was one of the hardest projects, but they preferred working outside to being inside all day. One student said it was tiring work, but he felt good helping the school. 

Scott Anderson, who works with at-risk students at Eisenhower, said serving others gives teens a sense of accomplishment. 

“It really gives them a chance to appreciate what’s around them by doing this kind of project,” said Anderson. 

Most students thought it was fun working alongside their friends. Their teachers said the teenagers did more work together than they would have done on their own. One group of students was determined to pick up every bit of confetti they found on the ball field.

Fitzgerland said she noticed once students got into the spirit of serving, they looked for other opportunities to help. One group, once they finished cleaning up Millrace Park, played with elementary-aged students there on a field trip. 

Four buses shuttled nine classes to various project sites. In addition to cleaning up parks, classes volunteered at the Food Bank, Salt Lake Community College’s Bruin Pantry and Eccles Childhood Development Center, the Boys and Girls Club, Clever Octopus and Head Start. 

Students also helped at nearby elementary schools—reading to students, running field day activities and helping teachers pack up classrooms for the summer. 

“I think it’s good for them to get out into the community and help and see others in need,” said Assistant Principal Corey Martin. “I think there are a lot of kids that want to help. There are kids who have received help and want to give back.” 

Community members participated in the day of service with donations for the food bank, craft projects and a clothing drive. 

“The whole idea was to have the students invite community members to come serve and be part of our day as well,” said Fellows. “Our budget for this was zero dollars. So everything that happened was done by donation.” 

Community members also supported the school’s blood drive that was held all day. 

“Our drive produced 25 pints that would have been spun, cleaned and separated just in time for Memorial Day weekend,” said service committee member Amanda Johnson.

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