By Amy Batista, Special Writer
EAST WINDSOR – Students at the Melvin H. Kreps spent their early Saturday morning recently doing community service instead of sleeping in.
Approximately 130 students participated in the Service Saturday held at the Melvin H. Kreps Middle School from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., where they spent the morning Nov. 21 making bagged lunches for the Rise Food Pantry.
“It takes a special kind of person to not sleep in on Saturday,” said Principal Lori Emmerson as she addressed her students and thanked them for attending.
“I believe we got 400 bagged sandwiches,” said Rise Food Pantry coordinator Julia Badulescu in an email on Monday. “It was amazing to see all these students coming together to help out our community. We hope it will become a tradition.”
Ms. Emmerson said that the work of the students helped provide inspiration during the holiday season.
“When we started this we thought we would probably only get like 50 or 60 kids,” said Ms. Emmerson. “Many of them wanted to help. It’s fun but, you are also doing something for your community We chose to support Rise because the week of Thanksgiving is very busy for them and the bagged lunches will really help local families.”
Ms. Emmerson said the school is working with Campaign Connect-New Jersey, which is designed to support New Jersey schools in becoming safer, more supportive, engaging, and inspiring by providing them with the training, tools, and resources to facilitate a team of stakeholders (administrators, faculty, students, parents, and relevant community organizations) through a data-informed, relationship-driven cycle of continuous school improvement.
Each school-based team utilizes protocols to surface challenging issues, articulate the root cause of those issues, and develop and implement a strategy and action plan to address those root causes. Consistent and transparent communication with the entire school community is part of this work, according to its website.
“We have an Action Plan and one of our Action Plans was to get our kids more engaged in school,” said Ms. Emmerson. She said they started this last year with their kids who are disengaged and had a high number of infractions throughout the year. “So we started last year trying to engage those kids who weren’t responding to our traditional consequences. We thought maybe if we try to engage them somehow in community service, that will make them feel more connected to school and more productive while they are here,” she said.
The initiative was open it up to all students, not just for the those who really want to serve, she said.
“So that is what this is,” she said. “It is part of our Action Plan but it really is a way of helping connect them to the community. Really, that’s what it is about making sure that kids feel connected to their school and to the larger community.”
For Ms. Emmerson, the highlight was seeing the kids excited and working together.
“There was no fussing and the diversity of the kids – high-performing kids and struggling kids – everybody came and everybody felt comfortable enough to do this and were working together,” she said. “I think the overall arching theme when you have a diverse community such as this that it’s really important to provide opportunities like this for kids to engage with each other where they may not typically do that for them to work for something greater than themselves or even this school.
“We are not just teaching sixth, seventh, and eighth graders we are raising adults,” she said. “We are trying to make sure that when these kids become adults that they are going to be productive in their community, they are going to give back and they are going to make our world a better place.”Wegman’s donated peanut butter, jelly, bread, snacks, bags and juice.
A letter was email to the parents by Ms. Emmerson advising them that the school would be hosting its first Service Saturday. Announcements were made during the morning and at lunch during which any student who was interested could see their counselor for additional details and get a permission slip to participate.Ms. Emmerson said the school got tons of positive feedback from the parents.
Haley Blank, 12, of East Windsor, said she thought it would be a good thing to help out.
“Some people aren’t able to afford their own food so it’s good for other people to help give them food,” she said.
For her the highlight was making the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
“It was pretty fun because throughout the whole process, when we had to put the peanut butter and jelly on and send them to the bags, I thought that was fun,” she said. “There are a lot of people here but it would be even better if a lot of people would help out.”
Erin Sevorshak, 11, of East Windsor, said she knows a lot of people don’t have food and it gets to her.
“If more people have food you will definitely have a better place when you get people to help out,” she said.
She was helping at the bag and mural station.
“It was a whole new experience,” she said.
Emily Dougherty,13, of East Windsor, said there is a lot of people who need the food.
“I just felt like if there is something that I can do to help that than I want to do that,” she said. “It was fun knowing that you are doing something to help the community.”
Reese Mascoll, 13, of East Windsor, said he just likes helping people.
“I’ve done this before and it just felt like fun to me, “ he said. “I like how if I can help one person than maybe I can help a bunch of different people. I just think if you can help make a difference, no matter how small it is, it can really make a difference and brighten up someone’s day.”
Phillip Quinn, 13, Hightstown, said he just enjoys helping people.
“It just sticks with you for the rest of your life that you can help however many different people because you have all these things that are just handed to you and other people may not have those things,” he said.
For him, the highlight was moving the bags around. “It might sound boring,” he said. “It’s kind of nice to see how much progress you are making with the bags in a short amount of time.”
Daniel Dye, 11, of East Windsor, said he has been hearing these heartbreaking stories of people being homeless and having no food and no water.
“When I heard about this community service I had to do this,” he said. “I felt so glad that I did this. I loved everything (about it) actually. I made a couple of new friends and I am just happy to be here today. Even though it’s a small job it will change your life.”
Ms. Emmerson is hoping to do a gift drive in December and have the students wrap gifts as their next Service Saturday.
“We are hoping to get butcher paper so they can make wrapping paper and then wrap the present,” she said, adding that they probably will not do anything in January or February and will start back up again in the spring.
She said school officials are curious to see if the level of student participation will be maintained.
“So we will see how it goes,” she said.
By Amy Batista, Special Writer