Class Project Spurs Middle School Students to Help Those in Need

What started as a reading assignment for Purcellville six-graders has blossomed into a community outreach project that has kids helping kids.

Students at Blue Ridge Middle School were tasked with reading Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” a few months ago. Their teachers saw the story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation into a kinder man as a chance to teach the students about the need of so many of their neighbors in Loudoun County, and how one person can make a difference in their community.

Each student created a project to inform their classmates about local families in need, and drum up support for Loudoun’s charities that give people a helping hand when they need it most. Some students filmed videos and gave classroom speeches, others designed posters and brochures, and most every student and school staff member brought in donations of non-perishable food, hygiene products and new socks and underwear.

The project culminated today with a visit from Donna Fortier, executive director of Mobile Hope Loudoun, and Cinthia R., once a client of the nonprofit organization who is now on its payroll as an administrative assistant.

Fortier told the students about how Mobile Hope serves precariously housed young adults and youth, providing them with food, toiletries, clothes and school supplies. “All the things my kids might take for granted, we want to make sure that every Loudoun County child has,” Fortier told the students packed into the school auditorium this morning.

After the presentation, sixth-grader Anna Holesapple said the project has her considering working as a volunteer at Mobile Hope or another local charity. “I didn’t realize there were so many people who were homeless in Loudoun County,” she said.

The most recent report shows that, in January 2016, there were 134 people in the county identified as homeless, under the federal definition for homelessness.

Sixth-grader Clay McKinley said the assignment has made him think differently about his pretty plush life. “It made me realize how much I have—my own bed, clothes, a roof, I wake up to breakfast,” he added. “There are some people that don’t have the things that we consider just basics.”

The project was inspired by Superintendent Eric Williams’ One to the World initiative, a division-wide push to connect classroom lessons to solving real-world problems. Blue Ridge Principal Brion Bell and Dean Karin Nixon said that teaching model has helped students take ownership of their learning.

“They know that they’re not just learning for a test, but that what they’re learning will help them understand their community,” Bell said. “I think an 11-year-old is ready to connect the content their learning with community activism.”

“You have taken your learning so far out of the classroom. What you’re learning about serving your community is something you’ll carry with you beyond high school and college,” Nixon told the students this morning. “That’s huge. You should be so very proud.”

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