Making a Difference: CMS Community Service Day Pilot
Approximately 20 students posed in the library

One of U.S. History Teacher Jenn McCracken's fondest memories from when she was in school is when they spent the day out of the classroom giving back to her community. In October, Mrs. McCracken was able to bring that experience to students on the Eighth Grade Red Team at Colonial Middle School (CMS).

"I'm excited that we could make this happen. Many of the students had a chance to interact with community members who were curious about what they were doing and thanked them," said Mrs. McCracken. "The kids could actually see the difference they were making and the impact they were having right away."

The eighth graders split into teams and worked with one of four nonprofit organizations in the area: the Williams Jeanes Library, Colonial Neighborhood Council, Friends of the Wissahickon and Mitzvah Circle. The groups of approximately 20 students were created based the eighth graders' preferences.

Group of approximately 15 kids outside of a building

"You were able to pick from four options that were very different from each other but still had the same purpose of helping out your community," said student Alena Epright. "So you could do something you were going to enjoy and get the most out of it."

William Jeanes Library

At the Williams Jeanes Library on Joshua Road in Lafayette Hill, students, led by Mrs. McCracken, wiped down shelves, cleaned and sorted toys in the children's area, and found out about the programs the library offers the community.

"I learned a lot more about libraries today," said eighth grader Matt Licwinko. "I went into it thinking that a library was just books, but there are computers in almost every room with Internet access for people who don't have it at home and just a lot of things to do. It makes me feel good that we were able to help them."

Colonial Neighborhood Council (CNC)

The Colonial School District and the CNC have had a longstanding relationship where the schools each take a month to collect canned goods for the organization, which is located on Fourth Avenue in Conshohocken. For the Community Service Day project, eighth graders, led by Math Teacher John Gebhardt, sorted food in the pantry, organized the teen room and helped in the thrift shop.

Approximately 15 students in the woods near the edge of water with trashbags

Friends of the Wissahickon

The team of students working with the Friends of the Wissahickon, along with Science Teacher Kelly Wistreich, hiked to Devil's Pool in Fairmount Park, cleaned out the trash cans, picked up litter and carried out nearly 120 pounds of trash.

"I chose to help with the Friends of the Wissahickon, because I like outdoors and nature, and it really hurts me when I see that animals are getting killed because of pollution and our fresh drinking water is getting polluted," said student Angela Bussell. "It was a long hike, but I think it was worth it because there was a lot of trash, and it needed to be cleaned."

Mitzvah Circle Foundation

At Mitzvah Circle in Harleysville, students, led by English Language Arts Teacher Cynthia Cox and Assistant Principal Phil Chang, searched for specific clothing sizes to make packets of outfits for people in need.

Group of approximately 20 kids in a warehouse

"Personally, when I was at the Mitzvah Circle working with our students to 'shop' for a family, I had so many different emotions running through me," said CMS Assistant Principal Phil Chang. "Mostly, I was thinking about how fortunate I was for all I had, how wasteful I was and how I should be doing more to help others. I heard our students having similar conversations, which makes me feel that this experience was really powerful for our kids."

With the team model at the middle school, roughly 90 students share the same four core content (Math, English Language Arts, Science and Social Studies) teachers, which made the Community Service Day project easier to plan, coordinate and schedule. Seventh and sixth grade pilots are also planned for this year to refine the program, with the hopes that it can be further expanded in the future.

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Making a Difference: CMS Community Service Day Pilot