Fifth graders Katherine, Nadia, and Emily make a Meals on Wheels delivery. 

Learning to Serve at Rick Marcotte Central School

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Thursday March 13, 2014

At Rick Marcotte Central School, students are learning a valuable lesson: you’re not too young to give back to your community. 

Last month, second-graders delighted the residents of Pillsbury Manor South with a concert of patriot medleys and other musical favorites. After the concert they handed residents “love bugs” they had made at school. This is the seventh year that the students have visited the residents at Pillsbury. 

Meanwhile, a group of fifth-graders are released from class on the first Thursday of every month to deliver hot meals to homebound residents of South Burlington for Meals on Wheels. “It’s cool to see the smile on their faces,” says Katherine Hankes, a student who volunteered last month.  

Peter Carmolli is the executive director of Meals on Wheels and a RMCS parent. “It’s no exaggeration to say the kids are their favorite volunteers,” he says “They just can’t get enough of them. They love to see kids.”

Carmolli speaks to students every year about his organization and the importance of community service. He even welcomes young volunteers into the Meals on Wheels kitchen in Burlington. While young people require a bit more supervision than adults, he says it’s important to give them an early experience with the rewards of volunteering. Sometimes they come back to volunteer as adults. “They remember,” say Carmolli.

Students at RMCS are building a great foundation already. Fifth-grader Lilly Truchon was recently honored by the Alzheimer’s Association at a school assembly for her years of service selling lemonade and hot chocolate to raise money for the organization. Third-grader Daniel Coel has spent his last two Christmases bringing hot meals and gifts to senior citizens. Fourth-grader Melissa Rosowsky has already logged five years of weekly volunteer service at a retirement home, and recently donated 10 inches of her hair to the Locks of Love organization for kids with cancer. 

A second-grade Girl Scout troop from RMCS donated a portion of this year’s cookie sales to a program at ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center which protects, feeds, and provides a winter home to baby turtles of a threatened species. In June, the girls will participate in the turtles’ release into Lake Champlain.

Service is also part of the curriculum at RMCS. On Friday mornings, all fifth-graders are dispatched to service projects around school. Students can be found organizing toys in the Kindergarten classroom, reading with younger students, counting pennies in the coin jar to donate to charity, or sorting bottles for a school fundraiser. Last month fifth-graders assembled and sold Valentine gift bags during their service time to raise money for the Breast Cancer Center at Fletcher Allen.

 “This has always been part of what we do,” says fifth grade teacher Annick Cooper. Seventeen years ago, she received a grant to start the “Schoolmate Store,” a business run by fifth grade students—complete with marketing, sales, and accounting departments—which sells school supplies and crafts. All proceeds are donated to a charity that the students choose. Checks in the amount of $50-$150 have gone to Humane Society, ALS Association, Ronald McDonald House and other organizations. “They work hard,” says Cooper, “and then they give the money away.” 

Teacher Bobbe Pennington believes that service helps students achieve important learning outcomes such as teamwork and responsibility to community. This is supported by research, which shows that youth who volunteer are twice as likely to volunteer as adults. According to Youth Service America (YSA), volunteer service also contributes to higher reported levels of academic success, graduation rates, positive civic behavior, and self-esteem. It also increases young people’s feelings of community connectedness and reduces engagement in risky behavior. 

Aside from activities with school, scouts, or youth groups, young people can find volunteer opportunities for themselves and their families at the United Way of Chittenden County. Volunteer Coordinator Laurie Dana maintains an online database of needs at more than 250 non-profits in the Burlington area, including those open to children ages 5-12. 

Children and their parents can cook or bake at the Ronald McDonald house, for instance, or organize a collection of pet food for an animal shelter or toiletries for an organization that serves the homeless. Families can help at events like the Audubon Center Sugar-on-Snow Parties in March, or the Global Youth Service Day in Winooski April 12.  

Dana suggests families choose a job that’s age-appropriate, convenient, and fun. She’s also quick to point out that kids don’t need to fill an official position to be of service. They can shovel an elderly neighbor’s driveway or offer to walk their dog. Service projects can even be done at home, such as stuffing envelopes for a charity event, sorting clothes for donation, or cooking a batch of homemade dog treats for Lucy’s House. In any case, Dana says, the lesson kids learn is clear and important: “This is being a good neighbor.”

The spirit of kindness, compassion, and connectedness gained through community service at a young age—especially when reinforced at home and among peers at school—can change a child’s life. At RMCS, the experiences are already imprinting. And they’ll remember. The next PTO meeting takes place Tuesday April 8, from 6:30 -7:30p.m. in the Art Room at Rick Marcotte Central School. All are welcome to attend.

SOURCE: Michelle Rosowsky, RMCS PTO