Instead of being in school May 16, all 1,311 students at Graves County High School used the community as their classroom.
The students were deployed to 68 locations around the county for the school’s seventh annual Community Service Day. They painted rooms, made repairs, did landscaping and yardwork, pressure washed, worked at the animal shelter, kept residents company at nursing homes, and more.
“We get really good feedback from the community,” said Assistant Principal Adrienne Custer. “The community members enjoy seeing the kids out and working hard, giving back to the community. It’s a really valuable experience for our students as well.”
It’s also a way that the school district can return the favor for the times schools ask the community for help, Superintendent Kim Dublin said.
A Graves County High School crew spiffs up the landscaping at the Community Performing Arts Center in Mayfield during the school’s Community Service Day.
“Our community is extremely giving and very supportive of our schools and our students and they never fail to help us out when we ask, regardless of what that is. This is a time for our students to reach back out – reciprocate and help them out,” she said.
Organizing the event is like planning a massive field trip, with all the logistics that entails. The students are sent out by homeroom groups – about 15 students in each – supervised by a teacher.
Transportation Director Jason Riley said he had 30 buses traveling to sites all over the county – geographically one of the state’s largest – with the work at some stations lasting a half-day and some a full day.
“It’s a lot of logistics and we try to get all these kids in the fewest amount of buses in a short window of time,” he said.
Custer, in her first year in charge of the event, said she relied heavily on a spreadsheet of sites from last year, contacting each. The difference this year was the tornado that struck Mayfield and Graves County the week before.
Some of the sites cancelled after that, deferring to those who needed the help more, Custer said. New work locations were substituted, and student groups instead helped clean up tornado damage and distribute relief supplies.
The lessons learned through the experience can stick with the students, said Missi Whitenton, assistant to the district’s pupil personnel director. Her twin sons, now 21, graduated from Graves County High in 2012 and took part in the event. “They’re kindhearted and wanted to help people,” she said. That attitude “carries on,” she said, noting that her boys helped with the post-tornado cleanup.
Graves County High senior Rebecca Green said she’ll never forget her first Community Service Day and the look of gratitude on the face of an elderly woman after her group of students did some yardwork. “She was just so touched that this group of ragtag high schoolers was willing to spend an entire day in her house or her yard, fixing it for her. It was something special for me,” she said.
The big picture
Community Service Day is an annual event, but the district has made community service part of its graduation requirements. Students must earn 30 hours of community service to graduate, with the single day netting just six of those. They can put in the hours any time during their four years.
“In my mind,” said Principal Matthew Madding, “it means something a little bit different to graduate from Graves County High School. Part of what we want to do is make sure that we’re teaching citizenship, and community service is a huge piece of that.”
It’s all part of developing the whole student, Dublin said. “So many times education is caught up in the academia part – which is important – however, those soft skills are going to help, too. They’re going to help students become that viable, productive citizen and realize there are other things they need to be doing as well, such as reaching out and giving somebody a hand up. And then those skills of collaboration, teamwork – all that comes into play there, too.”
The Community Service Day and the service requirement also give students “a better understanding of how life really is,” school board Chairman Charles “Ronnie” Holmes said. “A long time ago, our kids, especially in a farming community, those kids used to do a lot of stuff on the farm. They learned the value of working and using their hands. And now with technology the way it is, automated equipment and everything, most kids probably don’t get to experience that.
“I know it’s great for them to be in class, but real life is outside the class.”