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Teaching students to serve

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GINA R. HEINE
January 18, 2008
— Brodhead senior Andrew Gibler sat among classmates last year learning about a graduation requirement they soon would face.

“To be honest, we were making fun of the principal at the time, not really paying attention at all,” he recalled.


As juniors, they had to start thinking about what community service project they would do to graduate.


Gibler’s friend Tyler Whitehead joked that they should host a “battle of the bands.”


The joke became reality.


Now, less than a year later, the friends have raised nearly $1,400 for the high school band and choir departments by organizing and hosting a Dec. 8 battle of the bands.


“We all had a fun time doing it,” Gibler said.


In an attempt to show students what it’s like to help others, Brodhead seniors must write a service project proposal, spend at least 20 “on-site” hours, write in a journal about the experience and give a 10-minute presentation about their work to a panel of judges.


As far as English teacher Steve Wallace knows, Brodhead is the only area school that has such a graduation requirement.


“I guess we’re somewhat unique around the area,” said Wallace, who coordinates the projects with Principal Len Lueck.


This is the first year the requirement has been centered around service in the community. Project ideas range from running a sports camp for kids, organizing a fund-raiser for a cause, spending time with kids or seniors or volunteering to work at various organizations.


Each spring, graduation for the school’s 100 or so seniors rests on their 10-minute presentations to a panel of judges. The judges’ grades determine if the students pass or if they need to better prepare and present again.


“You see kids come out of there just all smiles, so excited about what they’ve done,” Wallace said. “It becomes a pretty big deal for them.”


Mayor Doug Pinnow has judged the presentations each year.


“In my day, I could have never done (a presentation) in front of seven to nine people, 2 feet in front of them,” he said. “I think it’s really good for the kids, good for the people who judge, too. Sometimes kids get a bad rap, but they do a really nice job with these.”


Since the requirement began six or seven years ago, only one student has failed the project and not graduated as a result, Wallace said.


But students know in their freshman year that they should expect the requirement four years later.


Gibler said most procrastinate.


“Nobody thinks anything out it,” he said.


The requirement is the school’s way of thanking the community and giving back, Lueck said. The reward for students is a sense of accomplishment and learning the importance of caring for others, he said.


“It gives them the opportunity so when they grow up to be adults, they can see the benefits of volunteering,” Wallace said.


The experience can be included on college and job applications.


But if it’s forced, is it really volunteering?


Lueck said students can choose what they want to do. They don’t have to volunteer in the community; instead their project could be career-related or helping a grandparent, he said.


“It’s a forced project, but not necessarily forced in the community,” he said.


The projects prove to be a lot of extra paperwork and time for Wallace, but he sees it as serving the community, too.


“Like I tell them,” he said, “if I didn’t buy into it, I certainly wouldn’t be doing it.”


STUDENT PROJECTS

Here is a sample of community service projects by Brodhead seniors:


-- Joe Johnson has finished his 20 hours of service by volunteering for Meal on Wheels in Janesville and the Life Alert program at Mercy Hospital.


But he’s still volunteering.


“At first, I wasn’t looking forward to it,” he said. “Once I got started, I actually liked it.”


Johnson plans to major in physical therapy at Carroll College in Waukesha in fall, so he thought of incorporating experience at the hospital into his project. He often spends his weekends delivering meals to residents in the Janesville area.


“They’re pretty happy to see us,” he said. “They like to talk a lot.”


He also jokes how people often think he’s a “bad kid” sentenced to community service.


During his time at Mercy Hospital, he verifies Life Alert records.


“I like helping, now,” he said.


He looks forward to seeing a person’s face when he brings them food and then often gets candy in return.


-- Kari Rognlien is still planning her project—a Tuesday, Feb. 5, blood drive at the school—with classmate Josh Hoff.


Rognlien said it was a last-minute decision when a different idea fell through.


The pair are making posters, advertising, organizing volunteers and working with the American Red Cross.


Those interested can give blood between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Feb. 5.


-- Briana Bohn and Karissa Prien have been working every Tuesday after school since November as coordinators of Big Brothers Big Sisters events.


“We wanted to make sure everything’s organized,” Bohn said.


The pair make sure the elementary kids get from their school to the high school, then makes sure all the “littles” are matched up with their “bigs,” she said.


The girls get out the games, print coloring sheets, pass out treats and visit, she said.


The project has taught Bohn organizational skills and how to deal with kids.


“You kind of learn how to run things—keep it organized, being responsible, make sure all the kids get over here safely,” she said.


Bohn said of the senior projects:


“If it’s something that you actually like, I think it’s a really good experience.”



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