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Volunteer work breaks barriers for alternative school students

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Stacy Vogel
February 26, 2008
— Raking leaves. Organizing books at the library. Entertaining nursing home residents.

These might not rank as teenagers’ favorite activities, but they sure beat school.


“It’s fun,” said Lindsey Krizsan, 17, a sophomore at the Milton, Edgerton, Clinton Alternative School. “It gets you out.”


Actually, for MECAS students, volunteering is school. The students spend up to three hours or more a week helping out at sites across Rock County.


Volunteer work serves as a motivator, educational opportunity and socialization exercise for students of the tiny school at 35 Plumb St., Milton.


The school serves up to 35 students who have, for whatever reason, disconnected from traditional school, said Jane Dooley, one of two teachers at the alternative school.


MECAS changes things up through group activities, independent learning and volunteer work. Volunteering allows students to get out of the building for a few hours—if they stay on task while they’re in the building.


“Sometimes it’s the hook that gets our students to reconnect to school,” said JoAnne Franzene, the other MECAS teacher.


Many volunteer activities happen every week, such as pet therapy at Rock Haven Nursing Home. The students pick up cats and dogs from the Rock County Humane Society and use them to entertain the nursing home residents.


Others are more sporadic, which can make scheduling a challenge. The teachers choose which students will go to each day’s sites based on their schoolwork and attendance.


On Valentine’s Day, four students and an advisor gathered at Rock Haven to deliver cards and flowers. They attached a nametag to each carnation, carefully curling the ribbon with a pair of scissors.


When they’d collected a basket full of flowers, they hand delivered them to residents with homemade cards created by members of St. Mary Catholic Church in Milton.


“Happy Valentine’s Day!” Krizsan chirped as she delivered flowers in a day room. “What’s your name?”


The residents said they enjoyed spending time with the teenagers, and the teens said the same about the residents.


“This is my favorite (volunteering site),” said senior Brittany Jacobson, 18. “I like the people.”


The students are learning while they’re having fun, Franzene said. They learn job skills, such as completing tasks and following orders. The school tries to place students with community role models.


Sometimes, the students will use people they meet volunteering as references when they apply for jobs, she said.


The volunteer work also breaks down barriers between community members and students, sweeping away stereotypes each group had about the other.


“Sometimes people have a real negative view (of alternative school students),” Dooley said. “One-on-one, all our kids are pretty good kids. They just need some guidance sometimes.”



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