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East Rowan students volunteer during East Area Service Day

East Rowan students took learning outside the classroom Monday to participate in the district’s first East Area Service Day.

The students worked on a variety of projects throughout the county: packing bags for families at the Community Care Clinic; planting flowers and clearing trails at Horizons Unlimited; washing police cars on the high school campus; and spring cleaning at Old Stone House.

The focus was “service learning,” community-based volunteer efforts that helped the students put classroom lessons into real-world practice.

“It’s like regular school but it’s helping you learn more about things in the ‘pen life,'” said fifth-grader Dakota Grinstead, a participant from Granite Quarry.

Tonya German, principal of East Rowan High School, said a need for service learning was identified among East area educators as they looked toward the 2018-19 school year and the school district’s renewal status.

Renewal came in the summer of 2018, as state legislators granted all Rowan-Salisbury Schools charter-like flexibility in areas such as curriculum and instruction.

“Often, people just associate schools with teaching academic skills,” said German. “Activities like these help us build those social skills and those interpersonal skills that kids are going to be using in every aspect of their lives.”

But students weren’t just learning lessons of responsibility, respect and altruism. Students in the occupational studies class at East Rowan High planted an herb garden at Horizons Unlimited after classwork on pollination and soil.

The work involved careful measurements, planning and diagramming to ensure the plants were given adequate space in the allotted bed.

All told, 300 students from the East Rowan school district participated: 70 each from East Rowan High School and Erwin Middle School and 40 each from Granite Quarry, Morgan, Rockwell and Shive elementary schools.

Learners had to apply to participate, answering questions such as why service learning is important and why it is important to give back to the community. Participants were then selected by teacher committees at each site.

German said there was no struggle finding 300 participants.

“I really like getting out and helping others, trying to be a good role model for the younger students,” said East Rowan junior Elizabeth Nanney. “It’s not as bad as people make it out to be.”

East Area Service Day also provided students the chance to become acquainted with nonprofit organizations and rescue personnel throughout the county. Groups volunteered at Rowan Helping Ministries and Nazareth’s Children’s Home, while others washed fire engines and planted flowers at various fire departments.

Deputy Tommie Cato, a school resource officer, was one of the first to have his patrol car washed by students Monday morning.

“I think this is excellent,” he said. “It’s so good to let young people get to volunteer and learn that volunteering should be a part of their everyday lives.”

German agreed.

“Often we’re reaching out to these organizations for help,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to have that reversed. Our ability to depend on each other is how we’re able to benefit the community as a whole.”

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