Students in a third-grade classroom at Dry Creek Elementary School in Clovis are learning the value in giving to others.
In December, the 28 students in Alicynne Chaney's class made 130 sandwiches to take to the Poverello House in Fresno during the holidays, using what they've learned in class to figure out how many ingredients it would take for the task.
In the aftermath of school shootings nationwide, many schools feel the need to teach kids about giving back and not being self-centered.
Clovis Unified and Fresno Unified school districts have long emphasized the Character Counts pillars -- fairness, responsibility, citizenship, trustworthiness, caring and respect -- that are designed to inspire students to great work with others in mind.
It's been a long conscious effort taking place at schools, encouraging students to be civic-minded and to look at things unselfishly. The teaching is blossoming into an array of student-inspired projects that benefit others -- and leaves an impression on the students.
In Fresno Unified, the student council at Manchester GATE in central Fresno comes up with community outreach projects. The council has rallied students to hold food, coat and book drives. It recently partnered with Children's Hospital Central California to provide gifts for needy families during the holidays. The money raised for the gifts was between $3,000 to $4,000.
"We want kids to look outward," says Russ Painter, principal at Manchester GATE. "They're going to be members of the community. We feel our school is producing the next leaders. Kids tend to be egocentric unless they see a need. Then, they are sensitive to that need."
Students reaching out to the community comes throughout their education at various grade levels.
Students at Reyburn Intermediate School in Clovis visited a Starbucks in their neighborhood during the holidays, handing out candy canes to the staff members and wishing happy holidays to them and the customers who also live in the neighborhood.
Students in a service-based leadership program at Buchanan High School volunteer in the community as well as perform class projects. They completed a food drive for needy families before the winter break. Now, they're developing a "clothes closet," which will house donated clothing as well as blankets, sheets and backpacks, for students and others in need.
Tina Tenyenhuis, who teaches the service-based leadership class at Buchanan, says it is important students are aware they are part of a bigger community with needs.
"It's important because part of being an American is contributing to the community," she says. "It's being a part of a democracy. The community thrives by everyone taking part and seeing what they can do to help.
"The earlier you get the idea you aren't living in your world alone, but you are interconnected with the world, it will grow from there."
For the students in the third grade at Dry Creek, the wheels started spinning when they began reading a new literature series that includes the true story of a Fresno girl, Angel Arellano, who in 2004 inspired the community to save Fresno's struggling Chaffee Zoo.
"The kids were delighted there was a Fresno connection -- about a little girl who made a difference," Chaney says. "The kids were saying, 'I think we can do something like that.'
"Clovis Unified works hard instilling the motto: mind, body and spirit, and ensuring we're helping to produce students who use their mind, body and spirit."
A part of Chaney's teaching is a cooking theme, when students learn how to prepare healthy foods and treats, then gobble them up.
Instead of cooking for themselves, the students decided they would prepare food for others in need -- the homeless.
The menu: Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips and bottled water.
They figured out how many pieces of bread are in a loaf and how many each student would need to make 130 sandwiches. Parents donated all the items.
On Dec. 14, the students made all the sandwiches and bagged them. Spirits ran high.
"It was quite a little assembly line in here," Chaney remembers. "They were amazed to see how many they could produce."
The next day, a caravan of parents and students dropped off the sack lunches at the Poverello House -- all but 30 lunches. They took those lunches a couple of blocks away, and, with the supervision of Chaney and parents, gave them to the homeless.
"It was like sea gulls flocking to our cars," Chaney says. "The homeless population is so intense there. The kids were speechless. They went from singing songs to complete silence."
The experience had an impression.
"When kids think of the homeless, they don't think of children also," Chaney says. "It was eye-opening. Now, they keep asking, 'What can we do next?' "
The students say they feel good about what they did -- and learned -- in a part of town that was unfamiliar to them.
"It was pretty sad seeing that," says Dylan Stairs, 8.
Jordan Garver, 8, adds, "I didn't grow up like that. I'm just thankful I have a home, food and clothes. There were kids and babies out there."
Kathryn Weakland, director of development at the Poverello House, says the Poverello House depends on the generosity of people every day and is grateful for people who help in its mission work.
She feels the students at Dry Creek are an inspiration.
"These children were an inspiration to everyone, showing us all that we can make a difference and change the world one nonprofit at a time," Weakland says.
"The Dry Creek students were truly a determined group of kids who didn't take no for an answer. They worked hard to obtain the necessary ingredients for the sack lunches, contributing to many hungry people."
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