November 26th, 2017 | by Ahwatukee Foothills News
By Paul Maryniak
As a middle-school teacher and student council advisor at Summit School of Ahwatukee, Melissa France plays a key role in carrying out its mission of teaching community service.
The students are learning that lesson well, starting a series of charitable activities.
Led by France and fellow teachers, the 83 students have come up with activities that helped starving children in the Philippines and hurricane-stricken kids in Texas. They are feeding hungry families in the Valley and are about to help babies.
“As an educator, I am always looking for ways to help students learn not only their academic lessons, but life lessons,” France said. “I am so pleased to be working at a school where our middle school students are given a chance to learn compassion, empathy and kindness for others though community service opportunities.”
With the help of colleague Amy Lecky, middle school coordinator, the students participated in an exercise at Feed My Starving Children’s packing station in Mesa, where they packed more than 36,500 meals that will feed 100 Philippine children for a year. Aided by five teachers and 15 parents, they also raised $1,426.
Turning closer to home, the student council then “adopted” the student body at Alvin Junior High in hurricane-ravaged Houston – this time involving virtually the entire student population at Summit.
Preschoolers drew the hurricane victims pictures while kindergartners wrote letters. Student council members then took these letters and put them into Summit Swag Bags containing personalized letters, a water bottle, mints and pens.
“Additionally, we created an Amazon Wish List for the school, based on the needs communicated to me via their counselor,” France said. “They asked for only basic items. The student council officers felt like we could and should do more. So, they added gift cards to the wish list. They also signed and sent a card to the school in advance of this letting them know that they were thinking of them and were looking forward to getting to know them better.”
Through social media, the kids raised $700 in Amazon gift cards; $174 in pencils and incentives; $300 for 225 tote bags; $90 worth of Kleenex 160 boxes, 84 bottles of hand sanitizer; 1,449 erasers, 30 sets of teacher stamps and 50 marker sets.
Working with Homeward Bound on Thanksgiving, the students rounded up baskets and collected nonperishable food items and packed in $30 grocery cars, a Thanksgiving tablecloth and napkins, two children’s books and a family game along with a personal letter wishing the recipients a happy holiday.
“The books and board games are purchased by student council from funds received throughout the year during our Spirit Day pizza lunches and Friday ice cream sales,” France said, adding that the student council wanted “these families to not only enjoy a meal together, but have some family bonding time as well.”
Now the students have turned their attention to the society’s most vulnerable people – infants born in the Crisis Nursery.
“Our middle-school students forgo a winter party to spend two hours making no-sew blankets for the kids at Crisis Nursery,” Frances said. “Crisis Nursery looks forward to these blankets every year.”
In addition, they are continuing a 15-year tradition called the Diaper Drive.
“This idea was brought to me by a parent at the time who was also involved with the board for Homeward Bound,” Frances said. “Student council has spearheaded the drive each year, and each year we collect more and more diapers. We have collected over 20,000 diapers multiple times.”
Homeward Bound got to the point where it received so many diapers that the Central Diaper Bank of Arizona was created.
For two weeks, students will be standing at the curb in front of Summit School during drop-off and dismissal and holding up signs reminding parents to donate.
All this activity is as important as learning the basics of any academic subject, Summit says.
“As a school we feel giving back is very important,” France explained. “We also have an active National Junior Honor Society and Spanish Honor Society that do community service as well. Our eighth-graders participate in a SERVE program that requires them to do 20 hours of community service in order to walk at graduation. They often have way more than 20 hours.”
“I greatly appreciate you taking the time to respond to me this morning,” she added. “I am very proud of our students for all that they do to give back, especially at their ages in this generation of ‘screenagers.’”