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Service taught through hands-on lessons

At Charlotte Latin School, volunteer service is one of the main curriculum tenants throughout the school year and, in particular, during the holiday season.

Recently, the entire seventh grade contributed their time to nonprofit organizations across Charlotte, helping groups in need while spreading holiday cheer.

Assisted by parent volunteers who provided transportation, 105 students spread out across the city to give service to the Alexander Youth Network, Billingsville Elementary School, Westerly Hills Elementary School, Easter Seals, Head Start at St. John, Loaves & Fishes, Second Harvest Food Bank and the Thompson Child & Family Focus Center.

Prior to the service day, teachers met with students to explain the needs of each organization and to lead discussions about the importance of giving back to the community. Seventh-grade English teacher, Page McEachern, explained, "In the middle school, we are striving for a culture of service."

Loaves & Fishes is a Charlotte-based, nonprofit that distributes a week's worth of groceries to individuals and families in a short-term crisis. Last year, they provided more than 102,000 grocery packages.

"We could not do this work without volunteers," said Lucy Mitchell, development director. "The students come and sort donated food that will go to the 18 different food pantries throughout the county. We so appreciate what Charlotte Latin School - from the preschool to the Upper School - has done for Loaves & Fishes."

In addition to sending student volunteers, the school collected three tons - or 6,166 pounds - of food at Thanksgiving, Mitchell said.

"I was happy to help. It made me feel grateful for how much stuff I have," said Reilly Suhr, 13. "(It feels good) to give to people who don't have a lot."

Service is a high priority in Reilly's family. In addition to volunteering with Loaves & Fishes with school and also with his parents, the Suhr family makes 200 sandwiches a week for Urban Ministry Center and sponsors children during the holiday season by providing gifts.

Claire Kelly, 12, went to the Head Start program because she enjoys playing with the pre-kindergarten students and realizes she has the opportunity to be a role model. Claire's family also volunteers their time. "I've been working with my mom at Loaves & Fishes and at Westerly Elementary School, where we organized a clothing drive for the kids," she said.

For teachers McEachem and seventh-grade Spanish teacher, Jenny Urbain, it is rewarding to learn that the students continue with service beyond the planned events.

"It's great that when we give (the seventh-graders) a responsible job that they act responsibly," said McEachem. "It's great for us to see the students in a different light. We have found that, there, a student may step up to be leader, who may not be a leader in the classroom."

Urbain added that the service day experience is "a great relationship building opportunity between the students, teachers and parent volunteers."

Following the service day, the students come back together to share their experiences by providing an oral report. Understanding the important lessons from providing service, "is a big part of the seventh-grade curriculum and all of Charlotte Latin," said Urbain.

In the middle school, the sixth-graders visit the Weddington Park Assisted Living Community weekly and both the seventh- and eighth-graders have various fundraising concerts and charitable collections throughout the year.

In the Upper School, students are encouraged, but not mandated, to join the service volunteer club. Students who give 150 hours of service are inducted into the service society and recognized at graduation.

Last year, 54 of 119 seniors were inducted into the service society for having performed at least 150 hours of service.