Fourth through eighth graders at Coarsegold Elementary School are learning more than the three Rs this year - they’re learning about serving others and have been hard at work in first-time elective ‘leadership’ classes taught by Melinda Gresham and Angela Moons.
The two classes, that meet twice a week for an hour and a half, are teaching the students the importance of volunteerism and giving back to their community.
“Angela and I see our leadership class as an opportunity to create kind, caring humans,” Gresham said. “We want our students to see how one small gesture can have a huge impact on others, whether that’s here on campus or out in the world.”
The school, now a recognized K-kids Club, has partnered with Oakhurst Kiwanis Club.
“Since Kiwanis is a service organization, we felt it was necessary for our K kids and leadership class to also participate in service opportunities,” Gresham said. “At the beginning of the year, we asked all students to come up with ways we could make an impact in our community each month.
This year, the 60 students in the two leadership classes have taken on a number of community service projects, including cleaning up the grounds at Fresno Flats Historic Village & Park in Oakhurst, doing yard work for seniors living in the Oak Creek mobile home community on Road 415, and making thank you signs for the firefighters who were fighting the Railroad and Mission fires.
“Our first project was to work with our younger students teaching them about the Buddy Bench that has been installed in memory of a student who passed away Katie Smith,” Gresham said. “The students have also made kindness cards that were handed out on campus.”
The students also raised more than $400 to purchase school supplies and ship them to students that were affected by Hurricanes Hugo and Irma.
“The students wanted to send cards to show their support as well as collect and send school supplies,” explained Gresham. “I put out feelers on Facebook and we had two schools that had direct ties to our community, one in Texas and one in Florida. The students also decorated boxes that were placed in each classroom to collect items. At the end of the fundraising, they had enough supplies to fill 12 boxes with school supplies.”
Cindy Slusher Anthony, a teacher at Grassy Lake Elementary School in Minneola, Florida, and a former Coarsegold Elementary student, sent a note to Gresham, Moons, and the leadership students after receiving some of the supplies, asking “How can you fit so much love in three boxes?”
“It makes my heart so happy ... what it does for our babies who have nothing ... there are no words ... none. It will never be the same here ... not in my lifetime, or even the kids. I still have so many tears, and I am much more able to cope than the little ones. We are also starting to get island babies from Puerto Rico and surrounding islands. This helps tons. If not for your help, all teachers would need to provide for these kids, and we have all had hurricane expenses that are too much. I don’t know of anyone who had zero damage. lease give my love and thanks to your leadership team, and especially you. We are overwhelmed by your kindness.”
“The leadership class is fun, and it makes me feel good as a person,” said student Kaelyn Kolgerg. “Going to the retirement community and helping senior citizens with their yard work made me feel good that I was able to help someone who needed it.”
Fourth-grader Jace Koenen said she likes helping people and likes making cards “because it’s good to write nice things to people.”
Sarah Lockwood’s daughter Katie is in the leadership class, and she has nothing but praise for the program.
“It has been wonderful to watch Katie take more pride and ownership in her school, and to start serving in the community, as well,” Sarah said. “We’re so happy that the kids in this program are being taught to give back to their community.“
Gresham and Moons feel it’s important for the students to see a project from inception to completion.
“It’s easy to make a sign, or drop off cans of food, but the real impact happens when they see the faces of those lives they have touched,” Gresham said. “We also want to make leaders out of these students so they are the ones to present the projects to the classes, and pitch ideas to our principal. It is our hope that these efforts continue through their adult lives, and that they find ways to exhibit compassion and leadership.”
The students plan on doing one community service project a month during the remainder of the school year and are already planning future projects - a canned food drive for Manna House, raising Pennies for Patients and collecting soda can pull tops for Children’s Hospital, and a coat drive in January.
Gresham said if anyone in the community has an idea for a project suitable for the students can contact her at the school.