"They're never too young to start learning about service learning," said second grade teacher Nathan Fischer. "If we start early maybe it will instill in them a desire to help their community more often."
The project started after Fischer's wife, Lyndsey, helped start a service learning day at the high school. That effort has been an overwhelming success. Nathan decided a scaled down version was worth bringing to the younger students as well.
"Remember there are all kinds of community," said Fischer to his class when explaining about service learning. "There's the classroom community, our school community, the Middleville community, the greater Grand Rapids community and even the whole world community. And you can do things to help everywhere," he said.
Making dog toys was a favorite for many students. "I like it because it helps the animals. It makes me happy," said Jayce Curtis.
Jordan Rowley said he liked the idea of making the toys for animals that didn't have any. "They need toys," he said.
"We're helping dogs have fun," said Audrey Krestkos. "I like that."
In another room, students used crayons and markers to create brightly-colored papers to slip into the chemotherapy treatment bags for Helen DeVos Children's Hospital. M.J. Willette traced a giant ice cream cone on his paper for the chemo bag decoration. "I wanted to make them happy. Eating ice cream makes me happy," said Willette.
Willow Tuffs colored a bright yellow duck on her paper. "I hope when they see it they will feel better," she said.
"I just want them to feel like smiling," said Madelynn Strimback.
In another room, students turned plain brown bags into colorful works of art with inspiring words, "Because we care" written inside a large heart. The bags were then filled with essential items like toothpaste, shampoos, soaps, socks and other necessities for the homeless. "It wouldn't be good not to have this stuff," said Jayce Brummel.
While the students helped others at three of the four stations, they also got to learn about helping themselves stay safe with advice from Michigan State Troopers Scott Russo and Brian Roderick from the Wayland Post. They were given five safety rules to always follow: never talking or going with strangers; always wearing a seatbelt in a car; never putting anything in their mouths that can hurt them like cigarettes, drugs and chemicals; never touching guns; and never letting anyone touch them who scares, hurts or makes them feel uncomfortable.
After participating in each of the sessions, students were encouraged to think about how the projects made them feel and reflect on what they learned by writing about their experiences. "I feel good. I feel really good and really happy," said Emma Geukes.
"I like helping people. It just makes me feel good and I like that," said Kylee Hoebeke.