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Learning to be leaders

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

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GENOA – Celia Huerta likes to help others.

“It makes me feel better about myself,” said Celia, an eighth grader at Genoa-Kingston Middle School. “I just like doing it.”

Helping people who are down on their luck makes Genoa seventh grader seventh grader Ashley Peterson appreciate what she has even more.

“It makes you feel better when you know you’ve done something to help families that don’t have the same things you do,” she said.

Celia and Ashley are students in the leadership and community service class being offered for the first time this year at GKMS. The required class is taught in six-week rotations: two weeks of learning communication skills, two weeks of leadership skills and two weeks of community service.

When principal Angelo Lekkas was considering the leadership program, teacher Carol Hencken suggested incorporating community service into the curriculum.

“Leadership really ties into community service,” she said.

Lekkas challenged each student to perform at least five hours of community service throughout the school year. Hencken said that service could be anything the students are not paid for that benefits someone else. Since Genoa-Kingston High School encourages its students to perform community service, it just made sense the middle school should do the same, Hencken said.

“I raised my kids in Maryland. They had to have either 40 or 60 hours (of community service) to graduate,” Hencken said. “It was just something the state felt strongly about. I know of kids that didn’t graduate because of it.”

Guest speakers visit the class to offer examples of community service. Retired school teacher Laura Haines, for example, explained how she started the Kingston Sharing Library. Another speaker, Judy Thompson, set up special hours after school to allow children a chance to help out at the Genoa food pantry.

“Once the people in our community know the kids want to do this, they’ll find a way to get the kids involved,” Hencken said. “These kids can’t drive, so it has to be in our building or after school where they can walk.”

Hencken said all the speakers opened students’ eyes to what they can do to help. A lot of them are already performing community service without realizing it, she said – shoveling snow or mowing grass for grandparents without being paid, for example. Hencken said she offers the class suggestions, but it’s up to the students to decide what they want to do.

“I tell them all they have to do is look around the community and see where the needs are and get involved,” she said.

Sixth grader Olivia Simmons helps out at the United Methodist Church and Feed My Starving Children. She said she liked the class because Hencken “is really funny and gets our jokes.”

Celia helped at Market Day and read to Kingston Elementary School children. She also helps out at a dog rescue.

Nathan Nesler, a seventh grader, helps at the concession stand at G-K Broncos football games, saying, “they helped me, so I want to help them.” He said he enjoys having Hencken as a teacher.

“She lets us do a lot of fun things, and she’ll teach us about helping out,” he said.

Ashley Peterson volunteers at the Methodist church, the food pantry, Feed My Starving Children, and Feed’em Soup and helps with student council activities. She’s also an athlete who plays softball and volleyball and swims.

“I try to get as much as I can,” she said. “But I have limited time.”

Many students, Hencken said, are accumulating far more than the five hours required. By the end of the school year, some could have as many as 50 hours. Just so their hard work doesn’t go unnoticed, Hencken said Lekkas promised an ice cream party at the end of the school year for those with five hours and a pizza party for those with 25 or more.

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