Everyone could use a little inspiration. For the teachers and students at Meadowcreek Elementary School in Norcross, Georgia, sometimes that inspiration comes in the form of GAC Middle and High School students who take the bus across the street to serve in their classrooms. It’s neighbor helping neighbor, as both GAC and Meadowcreek students benefit from the partnership that has spanned many decades.
Marsie Walton, GAC 6th-grade girls Bible teacher, has watched her students grow tremendously through this service experience. “Students gain a better understanding of their community and learn the value of respect. When you’re working with people, they always need to feel respected. You extend as much grace as possible, letting them know that they are important, that this experience is valuable for us, and how much we appreciate them.” The feeling at Meadowcreek is mutual. Says Meadowcreek volunteer coordinator Judy Pena Perez: “The partnership with GAC has not only benefited our teachers and staff through service hours, but has also allowed our students to grow academically through working with caring and nurturing GAC students.”
In order to serve, GAC students apply for coveted spots and are selected based on grades and teacher recommendations. Tina Martin, who assists Ms. Walton with the program, sees how GAC students blossom during the 10-12 visits they take a year. “Students are assigned to certain classrooms where they read to students and help with centers. They go to the same classrooms each time so they can develop relationships with the students.” GAC High School Spanish teacher Lana Garner also takes some of her Spanish students over as a way to extend their language literacy.
Part of the students’ experience includes serving during Meadowcreek’s annual International Festival. Ms. Perez is on the lookout for the 16 GAC students who will help at this year’s event. “I love the way we all come together as one to support and celebrate each other!” This year, the festival will take place on March 21st, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. GAC students will serve at the event through painting each child’s country flag on their face and helping students mark their country on a map hung on a wall.
Last spring, Ms. Martin and Caroline Keyes, GAC Middle and High School dance instructors, found a creative way to extend the Meadowcreek partnership. As part of GAC’s professional development, they put together a proposal for a new service-learning opportunity for GAC students: performing the technically-challenging Nutcracker ballet for an enthusiastic audience of Meadowcreek 3rd-5th graders and their teachers this December.
On the day of the performance, Meadowcreek students entered the GAC campus greeted with high-fives as they crossed the street, with musical entertainment along their way into the performance hall. At the end of the show, the students had the added fun of visiting with the characters who lined the lobby, ready to answer questions and take pictures with the students.
Students left with a treat as sweet as the performance itself. National Dance Honor Society members had a candy collection and prepared over 400 goody bags to share with the students. They also created a print program for the event with additional learning activities, such as word searches and crossword puzzles, in order to extend the educational component of the performance.
One thing became clear to everyone once the event took place. It would not have been possible without GAC’s new Performing Arts Center, which was recently renovated through the generous donation of a GAC family, the Artusa family. Over 450 students and teachers crowded the state-of-the-art performance hall, all eager to get a glimpse of Clara, the Sugar Plum Fairy, and Dream Fairies as they graced the stage.
Ms. Keyes and Ms. Martin believe the project was well worth the effort. “We hoped to give the students an opportunity to see a ballet production that they may not otherwise have the opportunity to see. We believe this is a wonderful way to give back to the surrounding GAC community and couldn’t wait for our dancers to have the opportunity to see the smiles on these children’s faces and know that they had a part in creating this opportunity and experience for someone else.”
Meadowcreek Principal Laurie Gardner was also pleased with the result: “Everyone had an excellent response to the Nutcracker. Several teachers and students wanted to know if we would be able to go again next year. Almost everyone wanted it to be longer. Teachers reported that the majority of the students had never experienced anything like this before, and they had many teachable moments after.”
“Hearing that the kids wished it had been longer is the best feedback I could have gotten”, says Ms. Martin of the 45-minute performance. “The performance was a shortened, student-friendly version. We may have to extend it if this becomes an annual tradition.” This and the partnership between the two schools is definitely worth extending.