Students all over the country had the day off from school Monday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.—but some Bridgewater students used the day to actually make a difference.
About 100 Hillside Intermediate School students spent their day volunteering locally for the community as part of the Martin Luther King Day of Service, created by Congress in 1994 as a national day that asks people to help local charities and others in their communities.
The students’ participation, according to teacher Katrina Macht, is part of the school’s Roots & Shoots program, which encourages students to help out in their communities and give of themselves for the betterment of the environment, animals and all people.
Aside from some students putting on a variety show at the Chelsea Assisted Living, others volunteering for the Pregnancy Aid Center in Raritan and still others working to maintain the land at the school itself, 18 fifth and sixth graders traveled to Avalon Assisted Living on Route 28 to lead an art project with the seniors.
“These are 18 students who gave up their day to be companions to these people,” said Rita Richetti, a sixth grade language arts teacher at the school, who was leading this part of the day.
“We’ve talked about Martin Luther King and what the day of service means, and we incorporated the day of service into our program,” she added.
With the seniors participating in the event, the students led an art project about inner beauty, and asked everyone to choose a quote that discusses that topic.
“Then they came up with a symbol for the quote and are drawing it,” Richetti said, adding that they also used the opportunity to learn about analogous colors and other topics related to art. “The students are teaching how to do the project.”
As the students worked closely with the seniors, helping them draw and write and guiding their artwork, praise was heard around the room as students complimented their partners.
"That's really great, I like it," one student said.
"You're a very talented drawer," said another.
Most importantly, Richetti said, she was impressed by the way the students were getting involved and really talking to the seniors as they worked.
“I am impressed with the engagement of all the kids,” she said. “They are all interacting and working with the seniors.”
And for sixth grader Adam Selph, the day was all about doing what he could to help others.
“I like it when we actively participate with groups in the school,” he said. “It’s fun to get together and do good for the world.”
Selph said he was just happy to do for others, and he had the opportunity to hear about stories from the seniors themselves.
“I learned it’s really fun to get together and hear about their pasts,” he said. “It’s about improving someone’s day.”
Lucy Tamayo, director of activities at Avalon, said teachers from Hillside Intermediate reached out to her to hold the activity with the seniors, and they were happy to oblige. She said they love partnering with the schools.
“We definitely want the students to come,” she said. “The residents love the kids, and having them here.”
Tamayo said she put the event on the activities schedule, and many volunteered to attend.
“They were very excited about anything involving working with kids,” she said. “The integration is wonderful for the residents.”
But the best part, Tamayo said, is that the students had the chance to learn from the seniors and vice versa.
“The seniors can see what it is like to be a kid today,” she said. “And the kids can learn from the seniors’ stories.”
Rita Bisogno, a resident at Avalon, said she was glad to participate in the activity, and to meet all the students.
“I enjoy being with the children, and I have enjoyed the project,” she said. “It is good for our minds to keep them active and open.”
Bisogno created an art project that she said she was dedicating to her late husband, Frank, who died 19 years ago. She designed two hearts, one with the words, “I love you,” and the other with the word, “forever.”
“He gave me a valentine before he died that said ‘I love you forever,’” she said. “I am writing it back.”
And resident Celia Copoulos said she just decided to participate because it was an opportunity to spend time with others.
“I like being with all the people,” she said. “I have no business being here if I didn’t like being with people. And they are all very nice.”
Sixth grader Alexa Miller said she participated in the event for the chance to help others, and was glad she did.
“Helping out can be really fun, and it’s good for the community,” she said. “I liked talking to the people, and helping them out.”
Elena DeStio, also in sixth grade, agreed with her friend.
“I realized that if I gave up my time for someone else, I would feel good,” she said.
But also, DeStio said, she liked having the chance to talk to the seniors.
“I like how they have so many stories to tell,” she said. “We asked them about their favorite childhood memories.”
At the end of the morning, students and seniors shared their completed projects and the quotes they chose about love and happiness.
And aside from this service, Richetti said, the school has been doing other charity work to help the community, including collecting 2,250 items—such as food, clothing, office supplies and other materials—through its recent Roots & Shoots Community Connection Collection.
“This is all done with the fifth and sixth graders at the school,” she said. “It shows how generous our school community is.”