Helping the community is the theme of the week 2/26/09

Feb. 26, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

As the smell of freshly baked bread wafted through Rachel McKnight’s cooking classroom at Williston Central School last Thursday, students rushed from rolling pin to baking sheet, from blender to oven making fresh breads, cookies and muffins.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Emily O’Brien, an eighth grade student at Williston Central School, prepares a batch of chocolate chip muffins to be sold in support of The Hunger Project and the Burlington Emergency Shelter. O’Brien and her classmates were participating in one of many activities taking place through the Williston School District’s Theme Week.

The students were in the midst of a project for the school district’s annual Theme Week. This year’s theme, called “Hands Across the Community,” worked to involve students in community-related projects in the local area.

With help from University of Vermont student teaching intern Melissa Stimson, students baked bread to sell at UVM and raise money for The Hunger Project — a global nonprofit organization that works to end hunger by teaching impoverished people to grow and make food. Students also baked other goodies to raise money for the Burlington Emergency Shelter.

For Stimson, it was important to teach her students how to bake bread from scratch in an effort to show how The Hunger Project teaches similar skills to people all over the world.

Fifth grader Maureen Porter and eighth grader Emily O’Brien got the message.

“Instead of giving a person food, you can teach them to plant or cook,” Porter said as she and her fellow students followed a recipe for blueberry muffins.

“If you can teach them something, they can use that (skill) whenever they want to,” O’Brien said while putting chocolate chip muffins in the classroom’s oven.

Students in the Williston School District spent last week in various projects related to Theme Week. All were able to choose two focus areas. Some of the week’s activities included designing T-shirts for refugees that have moved to the region, beading bracelets to sell to raise money for the Regional Autism Center, and teaching seniors how to play interactive video games.

Physical education teacher Jennifer Oakes was enthusiastic about this year’s Theme Week and hoped students could carry the lessons they learned into the future.

“As far as I can see and as far as community outreach goes, it’s been wonderful,” Oakes said.

Students agreed. Eighth grader Mary Rutenbeck said the whole student body looked forward to Theme Week.

“It can be so much fun,” Rutenbeck said.

Rutenbeck and her classmates in M.C. Baker’s art class were designing T-shirts to be given away to refugees coming to the state through the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program. Each T-shirt was uniquely designed with paint, and by Thursday afternoon more than 60 shirts had been completed — with more on the way. Baker said her students could make one shirt for themselves as well, but most wanted to donate it to the program instead.

“My kids rock the house,” Baker said with a big smile.

The creative streak continued in Liz Demas’ class, where students created unique bracelets and necklaces for autism awareness. Students were able to choose from various glass beads and handmade charms. Hannah L’Esperance had been particularly busy making bracelets.

“This is my fifth,” L’Esperance said, holding up a multi-colored creation.

Demas said the bracelets and necklaces would be sold at various student fairs and events to raise money for the Regional Autism Center. She hopes to raise “a couple thousand dollars” from the more than 225 creations.

Over in Virginia Memoe’s classroom, students participated in Random Acts of Kindness, making gift boxes and papier-mâché flower arrangements for adults in the school who “make a difference,” according to Memoe. The boxes were decorated with colorful drawings and cutouts, with chocolates and candies inside.

“We just picked anyone that we’re thankful for who teaches us and helps us,” said student Phoebe Quayle.

Besides flexing their creative muscles, students also participated in a few competitive events, including the Will-Iditarod, based on the famous Alaskan dogsled race. Students pulled one another on sleds through an obstacle course around the Williston Central School playground. Students said it was a grueling race and required them to use teamwork if they wanted to win.

“We had to encourage each other to move on,” student Andy Ho said.

Oakes said many residents stopped by the school to help students with the projects, an extension of the community theme that allowed students and Williston residents to learn from each other.