It is based off the clubs of the same name at Hillside Intermediate School and the Bridgewater-Raritan High School—and now a group of five middle school students are making their mark to help students get an education in Africa.
The group is called Students Raising Students, and it is a program designed to help raise money to send to students mainly in Kenya and Tanzania to enable them to continue their education.
“This is a club that raises awareness for money for children in Africa to go to school, where most live in poverty,” said Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School seventh grader Brady Feuer.
Feuer took on starting the club this year after he decided to make it his community service project to fulfill the requirements for his Bar Mitzvah.
“I decided to further the Students Raising Students program into the middle school,” he said. “I want all levels of all the schools involved.”
The students began working on this initiative with Hillside Intermediate teacher Katrina Macht, who runs the Roots & Shoots program, of which Students Raising Students is an offshoot.
And from there, Feuer started recruiting, beginning with seventh grader Hannah Roberts, who was also part of the program in sixth grade at Hillside.
“If you can educate one child, you can educate a village,” she said. “There is more income for families.”
“I love the club, and when I did service learning in intermediate school, I decided I was passionate about it,” she added.
Once the middle school club got its initial start, they began to recruit from around the school.
They brought in eighth grader Adam Litwin, who had been active in the organization at Hillside. And eighth grader Zack Malek decided to join, having already seen that his sister started the branch in the high school.
Finally, seventh grader Chloe Dorward was helping Macht set up her classroom for the year with Feuer and Roberts, and she asked to join.
“Hannah and I helped Mrs. Macht set up exhibits for Roots & Shoots before school,” Feuer said. “I knew Chloe was an active member, so I asked her to be a member of the middle school group.”
Now, the group is getting ready to advertise and focus on activities to start raising funds.
First, Feuer said, they are planning to participate in Celebrity Chef, an annual event at Hillside, where students make their best recipes, and prizes are awarded at the end of the night.
“We will have the high school branch and the middle school one there too,” Roberts said. “It will be a district thing, and hopefully we will raise as much money as we can.”
They are also looking to participate in Hillside’s Martin Luther King Day of Service in January. Each year, members of the Roots & Shoots program give up their day off for Martin Luther King Jr. Day and participate in projects that help with people, the environment and animals.
In past years, students have made recycled paper, performed for senior citizens, worked on nature trails at the school and created a video to educate on poverty in Africa.
“We are trying to expand this program to more places and get more kids involved,” Feuer said.
The group is also looking to put together a Dance for African Education and other events, although the most important next step will be recruitment.
Malek said the group is hopefully going to get members of the student council to announce the club in homerooms, while also getting information on the morning announcements and making posters to hang around the school.
“A lot of people from Hillside were in the program, and hopefully kids from Eisenhower will join too,” Litwin said. “We want to show the club exists.”
“And it has been spreading by word of mouth,” Feuer added.
For the current members of the club, the bigger it gets the better.
“The bigger it gets the more help we will have for more kids in Africa to get an education,” Roberts said.
But for the current members of the club, moving forward and building it is all about passion for the cause, especially after what they learned from Macht during their time at Hillside.
“You can’t start a club like this without passion,” Roberts said. “You walk in Mrs. Macht’s room, and you feel it.”
“She is the one person who inspired me to be more active,” Feuer added.
And aside from that passion, they just want to know they are helping others in need.
“So many people say they don’t want to go to school, but lots of people in Africa can’t,” Litwin said.
“Many people take for granted what we have,” Feuer added. “It is not all about having things fed to you.”
In addition, the members of the group said they would love to extend the club even to the primary schools—like Hamilton Primary that has a Roots & Shoots junior squad—to expand to the entire district, although they understand it is different for the younger students to grasp some of the concepts.
“It would have to be on a smaller scale because they don’t really understand,” Feuer said.
But they said it would be beneficial to have students start giving back right when they enter the district.
“Everyone will be doing one thing that is small,” Feuer said. “It is not just about the district focusing on academics or performing arts. We have service learning too.”
And for these students, as they start to build their group, just helping out is the most important piece.
“Kids think helping others is so much work, but the more kids who join, the less you have to do,” Feuer said. “Everyone can do their share of a project, and it is not as much work.”
“And an adult is just a big, wiser kid,” Litwin added. “Kids can do it, they can make a difference.”