Students reach out with a helping hand
For the past four weeks, a group of Rosemount Middle School seventh graders has been learning a lesson no regular class could teach them. They're learning, they say, that helping others can be fun.
The six members of the RMS Gold House are the first members of their school's new REACH program. Held during Irish Time - a daily period for students to get help in areas where they're struggling or to take on other projects - REACH asks students with good social skill to spend part of their day with classmates who could use a little extra friendship in their lives.
Every Tuesday the REACH students go into two classrooms at the school and spend time with the students there. They play board games or video games or just hang out and talk. The students know they're doing a good deed, but it mostly just feels like spending time with new friends.
"It's just like hanging out with your friends, but we didn't know them (before)," said REACH member Naomi Swanson.
That's the kind of reaction school psychologist Lisa Kelly was looking for when she put the program together earlier this year. RMS staff members all have the opportunity to come up with Irish Time enrichment programs, and Kelly saw a need to create some new social connections. She approached the Gold House students looking for kids with good social skills, put her volunteers through a week of orientation then sent them out into the classrooms.
"We talked about friendship and some of the skills they might have in being a good friend," Kelly said. "We talked about the skills they might need, which would be listening, asking questions if they didn't understand something.... A little bit about boundaries and supervision when you're volunteering, which are a little bit different than the boundaries you might see when you're in the hall with your friend."
After four weeks in the classrooms, reaction has been good.
"I've gotten great feedback from the teachers," Kelly said.
Kelly had hoped to sign up 12 volunteers for the first trimester of REACH, but the volunteers she got might end up being her best recruiting tool. Several have already tried to talk their friends into joining when the second session starts next trimester, and all seem enthusiastic about coming back.
"We're hoping next trimester we'll get to do more," group member Isabel Edgar said. "We're just hoping to have a lot more people."
REACH member Ian Lindgren said he signed up because his mom had been bugging him to do community service.
"A lot of times I thought of community service as a chore, and everybody knows I don't like doing chores," he said. "But as soon as I started, I really liked it."
Now, he said, he jumps for joy when it's time for REACH.
Other members of the group seem to feel the same.
"I thought it would be kind of boring just to listen, but it was a lot of fun," group member Dan Ellis said.
The students said students they'd never seen before have become new friends.
"There's some cool people we help," Ellis said.