2016-05-27 / Front Page

Selfless lesson for students

Middle School of Kennebunks eighth-graders thrive during community service projects
By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer


Twins Nick (left) and Tim Burgess had hoped to collect about 120 books for their eighth-grade service project at Middle School of the Kennebunks. However, the garage of their family home in Kennebunkport was soon overflowing with more than 3,000 publications. (Duke Harrington photo) Twins Nick (left) and Tim Burgess had hoped to collect about 120 books for their eighth-grade service project at Middle School of the Kennebunks. However, the garage of their family home in Kennebunkport was soon overflowing with more than 3,000 publications. (Duke Harrington photo) KENNEBUNK — Sometimes, the best learning takes place outside the classroom.

This year, all 165 eighth-graders at the Middle School of the Kennebunks (MSK) have taken to heart a handful of valuable lessons, gleaned while completing the school’s first round of community service projects.

A curriculum requirement thanks to MSK’s status as an International Baccalaureate school, the service projects were run as a pilot program last year, but became a must-complete for all eighth-grade students this year. Launched in December, students began working on the projects outside of school in groups of twos and threes, and in some cases solo in self-directed efforts designed to give back to the community while serving as a capstone to their learning experience at MSK. The projects were to be completed this past week, and graded.


Phillip Rossborough and his dog, Olivia, and teammate Alden Coldreck visit with Beverly Eames at Atria Kennebunk as part of their eighth-grade service project at the Middle School of the Kennebunks. (Duke Harrington photo) Phillip Rossborough and his dog, Olivia, and teammate Alden Coldreck visit with Beverly Eames at Atria Kennebunk as part of their eighth-grade service project at the Middle School of the Kennebunks. (Duke Harrington photo) “I think it’s important for all students to understand about giving something back to the community,” Principal Jeff Rodman said. “It’s a way of putting what they’re learning in school into action. The variety of the things the students did was just amazing. It really ran the gamut, with students each finding their niche, or what they can do and what they can provide.

“I think something like this really empowers students to know they can make a difference,” Rodman said. “I think this whole notion of teaching and learning has changed. When I was in school it was a lot of memorization, and maybe you’d do some kind of project every once in a while. But today, we really want students to be inquirers, we want them to think about why they’re doing a thing, and act upon that.


Fifty pair. That’s about how many shoes Tommy Lazos (left) Max Murray (middle) and Maleek Gillard (right) hoped to collect with they began taking donations for online charity soles4souls, which distributes shoes to needy children in Third- World countries, as their eighth-grade service project at the Middle School of the Kennebunks. However, a closet at the school quickly became a temporary home to nearly 350 pair. (Duke Harrington photo) Fifty pair. That’s about how many shoes Tommy Lazos (left) Max Murray (middle) and Maleek Gillard (right) hoped to collect with they began taking donations for online charity soles4souls, which distributes shoes to needy children in Third- World countries, as their eighth-grade service project at the Middle School of the Kennebunks. However, a closet at the school quickly became a temporary home to nearly 350 pair. (Duke Harrington photo) “Leaning isn’t just facts,” Rodman said. “It’s about apply it, and how we can help others.”

And what did MSK students learn as a result of their service projects? One lesson was that the Kennebunks are a very giving community. Almost every project garnered far greater results than the students expected. But another common theme was the need to adapt to the unknown, and to regroup when things don’t quite go as planned.

“I think what I really learned was how important communication is,” said Tim Burgess, of Kennebunkport.

Along with his twin brother Nick, Tim initially planned to collect toys for sick children, inspired by the example of their pediatrician father. But local hospitals declined the offer, saying there was no need. The Boston Children’s Hospital never even replied.

Quickly, shifting gears, the Burgess boys hooked horns with the United Way of York County, and agreed to collect lightly used books for distribution to a host of literacy programs.

After making presentations to both the United Way board and students and staffers at Kennebunkport Consolidated School, the boys planned on collecting maybe 120 books for Grade K-5 reading level.

“We ended up getting just shy of 4,000,” Nick said. “They really kind of took over our garage.”

“They’re both in Scouts, so doing service projects is not new to them,” the boys’ mother, Mary Lou Burgess, said. “But I think what this really did was help them learn the power of making connections, of networking, after getting the door slammed in their faces three times.”

Another trio of students – Tommy Lazos, Maleek Gillard, and Max Murray – had a similar experience.

After a couple of similar false starts, they settled on collecting shoes for the online charity Soles4Souls, for distribution to needy children in Third World countries. “We only thought we’d get about 50, maybe, but when we registered for the website, we had to put down an estimate of what we would do,” Gillard said. “Max put in 300 shoes and we all thought he was crazy!”

The 300 mark seemed unreachable, with only 15 pairs collected during the first three weeks of the drive.

“But then they really started coming in,” Gillard said. “It was pretty incredible. We were shocked. We ended up getting 338 pairs of shoes.”

“We made posters that went to all the schools and in newsletters, and we ended up getting lots,” Murray said. “Like everything. Including a few pairs of cleats that we ended up giving to the athletic director here at MSK to give to the kids here who need them.”

“I think the weirdest thing we got was a pair of slippers, that were all, like, pink, and fluffy,” Lazos said. “I don’t think we’re including those in what we send.”

And something else the shoe collectors learned – “It’s really expensive to ship shoes!” Gillard said. The cost, about $150, is being split by the boys, with a little help from their parents.

Meanwhile, the team of Parker Fairfield and Emma Pelletier learned that age-old entrepreneurial adage: You’ve got to give in order to get. And also, it almost always works to A) know your audience, and B) appeal to their stomachs.

The girls decided they wanted to contribute to The Malala Fund, an international charity set up in honor of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012 in hopes of ending her activism for providing access to educating girls and women.

“We both read her book, so we knew we definitely wanted to do that as our project,” Pelletier said.

“Just [cash] fundraising isn’t super encouraged as a project, because there’s only so much people can give, but this was really important to both of us,” Fairfield said.

And so the girls hatched on the idea of holding a bake sale, rather than simply asking for cash. They baked an assortment of cookies and whoopie pies and other assorted treats, all of which proved to be a hit with their classmates.

“We made $120 in the first 20 minutes. It felt really good,” Fairfield said.

The girls also set up a crowdfunding page. In all, they raised a total of $2,360 in a combination of sales and a match by GoFundMe website.

“We got one anonymous donation of $200,” Fairfield said. “That was really cool, to know that someone cared as much as we did. Because we’re really privileged where we are. We get things here in terms of education that, in other places, aren’t even an option.” “I think this was eye opening to everyone to realize how much we have, and that there are other people who don’t,” Pelletier said.

But the service projects were not only about giving to those who have less. There also were plenty of options for personal connections.

Izzy Fontaine connected with the Big Brothers Big Sisters to find an underprivileged girl in the Rumford area, taking her to Black Mountain and teaching her to ski. The experience proved so rewarding she’s staying in touch with her protégé, and plans to continue the instruction with new charges each winter through high school.

Meanwhile, Alden Coldreck and Phillip Rossborough made a series of visits to the Atria Kennebunk with Phillip’s dog, Olivia.

They knew from seniors in their own lives how important tactile sensations can be to the elderly, and, though not trained as a service dog, Olivia, and the boys, brought a lot of smiles to a host of senior citizens.

And, at the other end of the spectrum, James Altham, Nolan Saunders and Laszlo Toth worked with kindergarteners at KCS, leading them in physical activities to start their days off right.

The boys say they were gratified to learn from teachers that the students ended up better focused on their learning, having worked out their excess energy, and they echoed Tim Burgess in stressing the power of effective communication skills in any kind of team or public project.

However, their particular project also made them realize how far they’ve come since starting their educational careers in RSU 21.

“With our thing, there was a lot of screaming,” Toth said.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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