ASHFIELD STUDENTS DEVOTE THOUSANDS OF HOURS OF COMMUNITY SERVICE
Ashfield Middle School students and staff have made community service a way of life this year, committing themselves to performing 10,000 hours of service. So far, they’ve logged more than 3,000 hours and are well on their way to meeting their goal. Along the way, they’ve made a lasting impact, helping elderly neighbors with yard work, raising funds for families whose homes have burned down, and even reopening the school’s library – all because they wanted to show their community that Ashfield Middle School cares.
Principal Barbara Lovell took part in a 1 million community service hours initiative for Emmanuel College, her alma mater, and was inspired to bring the project to the 520-student school as a way of teaching her students the value of giving back. It also shows young people how their efforts can and do make a difference, she said.
“I knew we had a lot of students who were giving back to the community and I wanted them to see that you don’t need a lot of money to help, you can donate time and have a big impact,” Lovell said. “The school is part of the community, and we need to give back to the city that does so much for us. This was a visible way for kids to give back.”
The front lobby of the Coe Road school is a testament to how students have embraced the project: the walls are papered with volunteer receipts, documenting the type of work and how many hours students performed. There is notice of leaf raking, of babysitting young cousins and coaching youth basketball teams; students are noted for giving their time to sell tickets to a school dance or running a bake sale for an Ashfield family whose house burned. One student is celebrated for donating 15 hours picking up trash around the school and the neighborhood, while another student gave time helping out at his church.
“We have students who have benefitted from other people’s giving – we have Haitian students who survived the earthquake, kids who have been homeless or victims of domestic violence – and it’s nice that we can empower them and show them that they can make a positive difference for other people,” Lovell said. “It’s an important lesson for them to learn.”
The teachers and staff are also leading by example, Lovell said. Teachers Nancy Williams and Cynthia Daly have led the effort, helping students identify needs and find ways to fill them.
“Children learn not just by instruction, but by observation, and a critical piece of this community service learning effort is for the students to see how much time and energy the faculty and staff give during their free time,” Lovell said. “We all believe strongly in helping others, and Mrs. Williams and Mrs. Daly have given their time to really empower the students, to show them that when they see a problem, they can work creatively to solve it for the benefit of all.”
In January, the students operated a “Penny War” – which pitted the 6th, 7th and 8th grades against one another in a race to collect the most change. The students raised $800 and donated it to a Brockton family whose house had burned down. Then in March, a 6th grader and her family lost their house in a blaze and her classmates stepped up to the plate again, raising $850 through a Hat Day and a bake sale.
“We have a lot of big hearted kids and staff,” Lovell said.
The last period of the day at Ashfield Middle School is an elective block, when students can learn about things that interest them – nature, journalism, music, even juggling. Many students utilize the elective block time to create and undertake community service projects. All students take part – those in regular education, bilingual education and special education – and all are equally invested in making Brockton a better place.
In March, members of the Ashfield News and Student Government electives decided they wanted to reinvigorate the school’s library. They catalogued and shelved hundreds of books that had been donated to the school from other school buildings (because the Ashfield was converted to a middle school from an elementary school in 2009, it didn’t have its own stock of middle school library books). The students also organized and staffed a book fair with an outside vendor, selling new books and accessories during parent-teacher conferences. Proceeds from the sale were used to purchase new volumes, which the students chose themselves. Now, they are staffing the circulation desk during the elective block so that the Ashfield Middle School will have a functioning lending library for students to use.
Sixth grader Mary Sanon and eighth grader Brennen Rand are proud of their work to launch the school library, and gratified to see how their work – and the volunteerism of other students – is helping to change the perception of Brockton youth.
“I think it’s a good thing, because we have to help our community – we have to join hands and stand up and make it better,” said Mary. “The more you do, the better the city can be and we want (Ashfield Middle School) to be known for a being a good place where kids care.”
“We want to set a good example for other schools and other kids to follow,” said Brennen. “We want to make people outside Brockton know that it’s a good place, where people care about each other.”