Students at sat on the floor of the classroom Monday, wading through video files of the home and school lives of people in Africa—several of whom they themselves had helped.
As part of the school's Roots and Shoots program, the student members of the organization participated in a Martin Luther King Day of Service, held every year to do activities throughout the community to help those in need.
Among the activities featured during the day were painting a mural at the Agape House in Somerville, doing an art project at the and putting together a video about children in Africa.
The video project came out of the school's Students Raising Students program that raises money to send as scholarship to help students in Africa get an education beyond sixth grade.
"Kids after sixth grade don't get an education," said Olalla Duato, a sixth grader at the school who helped with the video. "We have events sponsored by the students so we can get scholarships to the students to keep their education going."
The video project actually began in 2008 with two former Hillside students who were inspired by the work they were doing to help kids in Africa.
"Since being part of Students Raising Students, I have always been really interested in the program and wanted to go to Africa to be able to document [what it is like there]," said 11th grader Nicole Arata, who, with her family and ninth grade sister Gianna, visited Africa with Roots and Shoots coordinator Katrina Macht in 2008.
Both Nicole and Gianna Arata were part of the Students Raising Students program when they were Hillside students, and they wanted to help the program even more.
"We wanted to show that what we were doing here is helping people," Gianna Arata said. "When you change one person, the whole community changes."
The two sisters took video of life in Kenya and Tanzania, visiting with the students they had helped through the Students Raising Students program and getting to know them and their lifestyles.
"One mother has a beauty salon because she went to beauty school, and she's interning others so they can open their own," Nicole Arata said.
Now, with the footage taken in Africa, the girls are working with students in the current Roots and Shoots program to put together a full video of how the school is helping students in Africa.
"They are making a video that synthesizes the trip and the impact Hillside students are making," said Anthony Sgro, Hillside music teacher and lead teacher for technology, who supervised the making of the video.
The video equipment itself, Sgro said, was purchased through grant money for the program from the New Jersey Education Association.
"We have been getting grants from them and the Bridgewater Education Foundation," he said.
And other funds used to secure the scholarships for students in Africa, Duato said, are raised through programs like Hillside's , Dance for African Education and Pie a Teacher.
"We are working on the video because it's service related," Sgro said. "It is to inspire incoming fifth graders [to be part of the program]."
"One thing I love about doing the video with kids this age is that it allows them to think critically in ways unlike what they normally do," he added. "What's left on the cutting room floor is what doesn't match the project."
Nicole Arata said it was nice to have the day of service to get started on the video after not having time to really tackle it before.
"It was hard to find time," she said. "We are making the first steps, and hopefully it will get done soon."
But that project was just one of many activities being held at the school itself to help those in need.
In one of the school's two science labs, school psychologist Tina Miller led students in packaging flour donated by King Arthur Flour, in Vermont. Students created packages of flour, enough to make two loaves of bread.
Later this week, Miller said, students will have a chance to learn how to bake bread in a presentation from King Arthur Flour. Students will then have the weekend to bake one loaf for themselves and one to be donated to the Food Bank Network of Somerset County.
"The company has donated enough materials so everyone can bake," she said. "We do this every two years, and the food bank gets more than 600 loaves of bread."
In a rotating set of three workshops, students also had the opportunity to participate in crafts activities, two of which generated items to give to children at Robert Wood Johnson University Children's Hospital. In one station, children had the chance to make recycled paper for Valentine's Day cards.
According to fifth grade teacher Joanna Lewis, the students were taking paper that they would recycle anyway and making it into a pulp before reshaping it and gluing on Valentine's Day messages.
"They will be packaged with goodies for a goody bag," she said.
And sixth grade teacher Sarah Wolf, who organized this project, said the students are not only helping those in need, but are also aiding the environment.
"It is recycled paper, and it is a good way to help with the hospital," she said.
Down the hall, students were decorating journals, bookmarks and pens with masking tape designs—these finished projects will also be given to the children at the hospital.
"We are making crafts out of duct tape, covering them in patterns," said sixth grade teacher Michelle Mele.
Aside from tape on the journals, Mele said, they were arranging patterns on bookmarks out of duct tape, as well as creating duct tape flowers on pens.
"These are for the children at the hospital, so they can write in journals and read while they're there," she said.
One of the final stations was a little more personal for students, as they created donation boxes to raise money to buy gifts for others.
According to fifth grade teacher Kiran Masud, students were covering old tissue boxes with wrapping paper, and writing words that symbolized the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. Through the next few months, Masud said, students will put their own money in the box, and, in June, they will buy a gift for either a family member or friend, or for a charity.
"This is a new project, and I thought it would be fun," she said. "I wanted the idea that making a change takes time. They can save money, and I am hoping they will respond."
"It will be challenging to not buy for themselves," she added. "I think it will be a positive experience and very gratifying."