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Learning to reach out

TALENT — A revised advisory period class at Talent Middle School is helping teachers and students get to know each other better and benefiting the greater community, whether it's local homeless people or Puerto Ricans in need of hurricane relief.

“The school had been meeting state advisory standards but thought they could be doing more,” said Principal Aaron Santi. “We weren’t really happy with the direction it was going.”

Staff devised a plan for more connection between students and their classmates and teachers. Vice Principal Heather Lowe Rogers said she felt students needed to learn more about the greater community and worked that into the program.

“It’s helping kids make meaningful connections at home and at school and in the community, whether it’s their own neighborhood or the world,” said Rogers.

Community service has taken a number of forms. Classes have picked up trash at the school, adjacent Talent Elementary School and in the neighborhood. Other classes have raised money to help local animal-aid agencies, assisted with the school’s Sparrow Club project, purchased Thanksgiving dinner for a family, donated for hurricane relief and created tie-dyed pillow cases for the Maslow Project. Assistance for Talent Elementary School is under development.

Many of the students were unaware of local efforts such as ACCESS, Dunn House and other community aid organizations, said Santi.

Under the new format, the classes meet for 25 minutes each day. Half of the 25 classes are meeting while the other half are having lunch, then the roles are switched.

There’s a mix of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders in each class, unlike last year’s single-grade makeup. The vision is to have students develop friendships across grades, and for older students to serve as mentors, said Santi.

“I get to be in a class with older kids,” said sixth-grader Brianna Gaal, who is in Karin Evans' advisory class. “We don’t get that chance in other classes.”

Julie Stinson, an eighth-grade language arts and social studies teacher, said she likes the flexibility the greater amount of time allows and the chance to get involved with students. She has different focuses each day, including community service, book reading out loud and a study day.

Stinson’s class netted $1,200 to aid others through a candy sale that totaled $2,400. A large portion of the money went to rebuilding efforts in Puerto Rico. They allocated $263 for gifts for needy children this Christmas. They also allocated $166 of the amount so that gift bags could be prepared and delivered to the homeless.

Seventh-grader Skyler Shaffer in Stinson’s class showed off the contents of a gift bag that students made and gave to the needy. They included a toothbrush and toothpaste, a candy cane, tissues, trail mix, a comb, hygiene items and socks. Students could also add a card with a message, which she did.

With her parents, Shaffer located a man asking for assistance near Walmart and gave him the bag. He was grateful for the help, she said.

“I know this helps for the homeless, since it's cold,” said Skyler. “It’s good to be able to help other people.”

Evans' class raised money through candy sales and used it to buy presents for a Dunn House Giving Tree in the school’s lobby. Students took the names of recipients, then selected the presents and wrapped them.

“There’s much better connection than in the past,” said Evans, who teaches sixth-grade social studies and ancient history. The connection allows Evans to determine where students might need some assistance academically, she said. Her week includes two study period classes, a free choice day where games are often played, and the community service day.

— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

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Principal Aaron Santi talks Monday with students in their advisory class. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]
Talent Middle School teacher Julie Stinson, center, works with students on a creative project Monday morning at Talent Middle School. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]