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Middle School Kicks Off Service Learning with Projects Both On and Off Campus

Middle School students had their first service learning experiences of the school year in late October, spreading their efforts across various opportunities designed to help them explore their interests while getting involved in — and giving back to — the community.

“As a cornerstone with our work with Lead From Here, we offer service opportunities for students in Middle School throughout the year,” said humanities teacher Wes Brown, who serves as the division’s coordinator of student leadership and programming. “This year we adjusted the quantity of service dates to allow for fewer meeting times that last longer, a strategic decision by the Middle School leadership team that allows us to focus more on the ‘learning’ aspect of service learning and build in meaningful reflection time after each date.”

Students learned about their options, which take place both on and off campus, during an assembly and were able to choose several possibilities based on their interests. Options for sixth- and seventh-grade students include volunteering at organizations including Note in the Pocket, Saint Saviour’s Center and Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources; mentoring students from the Learning Together school; and visiting residents of Elmcroft Senior Living and The Cypress of Raleigh.

“One of our longest-running partnerships is with Learning Together, a school whose mission is to meet the developmental, educational and health needs of young children of all abilities,” said Middle School academic skills teacher Melony Lightfoot, who helped pioneer service learning at Ravenscroft in the 1990s. “Students are paired with a buddy and they read, color, eat lunch and play on the playground. This allows our students to engage in empathy and be accountable for another individual. After the buddies leave, students reflect and share their experiences, providing a growth opportunity for all.”

The list of options for eighth-graders helped them become familiar with local organizations connected to global issues, such as hunger or habitat destruction, that they may later choose to investigate and address in their capstone Ravens in Action service projects.

Teachers Shayla Coleman and Michelle Nunalee, for example, partnered with Wake County Parks and Recreation to introduce students to the challenges of invasive plant management at Lake Crabtree County Park in Morrisville. While there, the group helped pick up trash that had accumulated due to flooding from the two hurricanes earlier in the fall.

“It was eye-opening, because I knew there would be trash, but I didn’t know there would be that much,” eighth-grader Maddi Maurio said of the experience. “It made me want to help more in my community.”

“There was a wide range of trash items at the lake,” classmate Laurel Carter added. “It made me more aware of how much trash I make and how much trash our community makes, and it made the statistics about the overuse of plastic water bottles more real to me. It made me feel that I need to pick up trash if I see it — and it made me more aware of what I can do to serve my community for my Ravens in Action project.”

Other eighth-grade groups worked with the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, the City of Raleigh stormwater management department, and the Society of St. Andrews, which sends volunteers to glean farmers’ fields and orchards after the harvest, eliminating food waste and providing fresh produce to hungry families in the community.

“This was the first of three afternoons designed to give students a variety of service opportunities and to help them develop a broader understanding of the needs in the local community,” science teacher Tim Phillips, who is the eighth-grade service learning coordinator, said. “The experiences are in step with Ravens in Action, the D.C. trip, and various advisor activities that support the eighth-grade theme of Change Your World.”