Middle School students focus on community projects on day off from school

by: ST. HELENS MIDDLE SCHOOL - St. Helens Middle School student Caleb Carter participates in the St. Helens Middle School's first annual service day by picking up trash around the school. Below, students work on art panels.  More than 30 St. Helens Middle School students spent their day off from school Jan. 21 serving the community.

They honored Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the U.S. Congress-designated service day Monday by performing a variety of tasks, from running a cat and dog food drive for the Columbia County Humane Society to picking up trash at McCormick Park and along walking trails at the school.

The school had been talking about initiating the service day for a number of years, said Principal Joanna Tobin, but this was the first time it all came together. Mark Janke, dean of students at the Middle School, coordinated the activities.

“The students felt very responsible,” Tobin said. “They felt proud of their work.”

She said she overheard a group of boys saying they looked forward to next year’s service day.

As part of the service day, students incorporated Martin Luther King Jr.’s words and image into the art work they created for the school, including his iconic statement, “I have a dream...” The art panels will be hung on the Middle School walls, said Janke.

Too young to volunteer at the Columbia Humane Society, eight Middle School students organized a cat and dog food drive, but continued the work long after the service day had ended, collecting more pet food as well as change to buy bleach and other supplies through the end of January.

At the St. Helens Senior Center, students cleaned out refrigerators and freezers, organized the craft room, sorted donations and helped with clerical work. Then they joined the seniors for lunch, Janke said.

Other students filled 10 large trash bags with garbage and litter they collected along the sidewalks and trails from the Middle School to McCormick Park.

“It was a great day,” Janke wrote in an e-mail. “Students did awesome work and felt that they had made a difference.”

Janke and Tobin said the school plans to organize a service day every year now to celebrate MLK Day.

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