For the students at , Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday is not just a day off from school—it is a day to perform service for others.
Students participated in their in January as part of the school’s Roots and Shoots program—and they shared their experiences at the March 27 board of education meeting.
Among the different programs during the day of service were painting a mural at the Agape House in Somerville, doing an art project at the , cleaning up the gardens in the Meadows and Trails at the school and putting together a video about children in Africa.
“We cleaned up the gardens and created microhabitats,” said student Hannah Roberts, who spent her day working on the environment at the school. “It was a great feeling to know we were helping wildlife.”
Student Olalla Duato said she spent the day at Avalon Assisted Living, doing art projects with the residents.
“We became the teachers, and taught them how to make works of art that represent our dreams for the world,” she said.
Roberts said there were a total of 250 students, staff and parents who worked together on the different projects.
“This year, students, parents and staff had the opportunity to honor Dr. King’s memory,” said student Corinth Boone. “The day emphasized core principles, like care and concern for people and the environment.”
Hillside teacher Katrina Macht, who runs the Roots and Shoots program at the school, said she believes this day of service highlights active citizenship, and allows students to show that to the community.
It also, Macht said, is in line with the core values of the Roots and Shoots program.
“The core tenant is compassionate action based on caring concern for animals, and human beings," she said, adding that Hillside became a Roots and Shoots school in 2004. “It is service for the planet and all beings. Not only have we embraced service learning, but it has become part of our mission statement, and integrated throughout the curriculum.”
“And Martin Luther King links classroom learning, compassionate action and real world education,” she added.
The presentation concluded with a video, put together by technology teacher Anthony Sgro, which showed overviews of the student activities, as well as comments from students and parents about how it felt helping others.
“We don’t have courses on how to act compassionately, we have something so much better,” he said. “Throughout programs like this, teachers and parents partner to offer our children a different kind of classroom experience.”
Superintendent of Schools Michael Schilder said he is proud of the work the students and staff at Hillside do in this program.
“Test scores are important and curriculum is important, but programs like this are what makes this district great and makes your school very special,” he said.
The video Sgro made about of the service day will be featured on NJEA’s “Classroom Closeup” on several of its episodes, April 8, April 14, May 6 and May 12. A schedule can be found on the program’s website.
“I feel like with the kids’ leadership skills, if their skills and commitment and compassion is any indication of their generation, than our future is in good hands,” Macht said.