Community Engagement @ Home

By Norma Richman

Personally, the work I did at this charity made me a lot happier. I felt like I had done something to help these people who had no jobs and because of that, I felt a lot better about myself.”

Michael K.

Looking back just a few months ago, it all seemed so simple. There were people in need, and our students stepped up to the plate—all on their own. In-person classes gave way to Zoom, and there was even a spring break mid-way through the distance learning. Yet children carried on the spirit of giving, sometimes with their parents and sometimes collectively as a class assignment, and all with a new perspective on the importance of Community Engagement. Even in isolation, they looked for ways to provide much-needed meals, hand-crafted face masks, and comfort to frontline workers.

The call went out early to High Point Academy parents for stories about what their children were doing in the spirit of Community Engagement at Home, yielding some terrific accounts and photos.

One of the first parents to send in a story was Rachel Steward, who proudly reported that Brooklyn L. has been hard at work sewing masks in High Point plaid so her classmates will have matching masks when they are able to return safely to school. Brooklyn is going into third grade, but last year she made scrunchies for all her friends; when the need arose, she quickly pivoted to masks.

Brooklyn L. sewing
Fashionable plaid

The Clark family shared that Elizabeth (now grade 5) and Katherine (grade 7) prepared cards with words of encouragement for the residents and staff of La Crescenta Health Care after the loss of two people there.

Elizabeth C.
Katherine C.
Lyla R.

Mrs. Melissa Kahane wrote in to tell us about her son, Michael (grade 8), who was volunteering last spring to feed the homeless at Turning Point in Santa Monica, an interim housing facility. The meal service was organized by Michael reflected on the undertaking in his own thoughtful letter:

“The charity was a whole new experience for me. I had never been to a place that cares for the homeless at all and had no experience doing any job required there to feed the homeless. I participated by making the desserts for the homeless with my grandpa who had also volunteered. After we finished making the desserts and all the dinner was served, my grandpa and I served the desserts. Personally, the work I did at this charity made me a lot happier. I felt like I had done something to help these people who had no jobs and because of that, I felt a lot better about myself. The value of helping others is shown brightly by these charities. Not only does helping others build friendships and relationships, but it also helps combat depression, exhibits selflessness, and gives one a sense of purpose.”  

 As zoom classes got going, it was clear that there were more stories out there and a perfect platform for sharing. While some teachers orchestrated grave-level class projects, they reported how impressed they were with the solo activities that their students were engaged in on their own time. I began “zooming” with elementary classes in late April and quickly got a clear vision of the variety and wealth of good deeds. First through sixth grades met with me during their morning class time to share their stories, some still pajama-clad and hugging their favorite pillows. As I progressed up the line, the pajamas were still there, but the stories of sharing and caring became more complex.

Last year’s first graders in both Ms. Rayburn’s and Ms. Summers’s classes had wonderful stories to tell. Lyla R. spent the month of April collecting much-needed hygiene supplies, including soap and toothpaste, for Foothill Unity Center. With the help of her parents and HPA’s Mrs. Lynnea Schoenbaum, the items were delivered with care to the Center. Nicolai (Nicky) E. sent Easter gifts to friends to cheer them up. Natalie W. observed that her mother, who works at a hospital sometimes gets stressed, so she made “breathing boards” for her mother and her co-workers. Diana K., whose mother also works at a hospital, made a breathing board for her as well. The class learned all about the value of breathing boards: their purpose is to encourage calm breathing and mindfulness. Allie A. likes to sew so she made custom masks for her family, and  Kingsley S. made own hand sanitizer to give to others after researching online for a safe formula. Also reporting from first grade, Knox Z. made an obstacle course out of chalk on the sidewalk just to cheer up passers-by. “It made me feel good to help others,” he concluded.

As the weeks went on, last year’s second graders in Mrs. Pearson’s and Ms. Silva’s classes carried on the great tradition of helping others. Sarah B., inspired by family members to be a doctor or biologist, always gave a big cheer and greeting to the medical professionals she saw around town in hopes of uplifting them in their hard work.  Zoey A. made frequent trips to her grandparents to give them food and cheer, and Aly K. donated fun handmade masks to animal hospital frontliners. Harper T., along with her brother, helped her father deliver groceries to senior citizens. L.J. regularly checked in with family via Facetime to see how they were doing, and Kaya M. helped her grandmother keep healthy by making sure she was taking her daily medications. Finally, Ella R. visited with her uncle who was recuperating from the virus, remembering to wear her mask and stay a safe distance away.

Moving on to third grade—now incoming fourth—I again met with Zoom classes early in the morning. Students in Mrs. Woodward’s group had more stories of caring and compassion. Camilla V. helped deliver groceries to her grandmother who was living on her own. Madison R. also went to her grandmother’s house, along with her family, to spread cheer and encouragement. Alexis N. sent personal letters of reassurance to all her aunts and cousins. One of the most memorable stories was from Anne W. in Mrs. Flanagan’s class. She helped her parents take care of an older man’s dog when the man became sick. They took in “Harley”, a Jack Russell mix, with the idea of finding him a forever home. At the time of this interview, the family hadn’t decided whether Harley would remain with them or move in with another thoughtful family. Anne made sure to make Harley feel at home, walking him daily. Max M. pitched in to help his mother make and deliver face masks for dozens of people. Finally, the entire class wrote letters to hospital frontline workers. Their efforts were rewarded with a heartfelt thank you photo from Doctors Weber, Sabari, and Siolas, who worked in Covid wards all the way across the country in New York City.

Soon-to-be fifth graders kept busy in Mrs. Lievense’s and Ms. Yulo’s fourth grade class last spring.  Ariana H. donated money to food banks to cheer up others. What’s more, she earned that money by teaching piano! Ariana also found time to video chat with a family friend who is a surgeon just to cheer him up. Amelia K. brought Girl Scout Cookies to a homeless shelter at the end of February, right before the close of school, and James B. put his green thumb to work by growing a variety of vegetables in his planter garden to donate to a local foodbank. Amanda H. devised a unique plan to set up credit with her own money at the Dollar Store so people experiencing hardship could buy what they needed, and Charles X. donated surgical masks to all the teachers still at school before the closing.

Aden Z. helped his aunt as she gave out hand-sewn masks with decorative designs. Partnering with his mother, Max S. made baked goods like cakes and cookies and pitched in to deliver the goodies to others. Cassidy I. cheered on her father as he bought and distributed masks for a local police station, but she also made sure to give some to friends “so nobody was left out.” Stella B., along with William and Cassidy, shared a special search engine with their class. Oceanhero is not the typical search engine, the kids explained. For every five searches, the organization collects one ocean-bound plastic bottle. These students were happy to inspire others to continue thinking about the environment, even in difficult times. Grant G. was also inspired to make care packages with food, coffee, and paper towels, and to ride bikes with his father to deliver them to others in the neighborhood. Finally, Tacia P. and her parents bought packages of toilet paper and delivered them, along with homemade Greek cookies, to family and friends.

Always active participants in Community Engagement at High Point, last year’s fifth graders in Mrs. Harris’s and Mr. Woodward’s classes lived up to their reputation. Alice G. and her family created drawings and wrote letters for delivery people who come to the house and for their neighbors as well. Samantha B. decorated sidewalks to thank frontline workers and to cheer walkers in the neighborhood; she also wrote letters to friends to encourage them to stay strong. Piper C. had similar ideas. She wrote letters of thanks to her mail delivery person, who then shared them with co-workers. The next day she reported back to Piper that her thoughtfulness made them cry. Cavon H. wrote a letter to his mail carrier, as well, and got a note back: “You made my day,” it said.  In addition, the entire group of fifth graders in Mrs. Harris’s class made Spirit Day posters for the graduating 8th graders and shared them on Zoom. Rachel K. and her parents made jam and donated fruit to those who needed cheering up. And finally, Melody D. helped assemble and sew one hundred masks for frontline nurses. They were passed on to Melody’s aunt who is a nurse. What was special about these masks? They were decorated with ducks and cats—just for fun!

Students transitioning from sixth grade to seventh grade in Ms. Chang’s and Mrs. Nguyen’s Zoom classes were very busy keeping up with school work, but they still had time to think of others. Story L. decorated mailboxes to cheer up letter carriers and passers-by, and Carissa C. made cheery signs for delivery people and gardeners in her neighborhood. Eliana G. shared a heartwarming story of giving to essential workers in the L.A. Police Department: in the morning, before going to school, Eliana would help her mother, who works at the LAPD Dispatch Center, make and pack up sandwiches and snack items for her co-workers. The goal was to keep their morale up and their stress down as they carried on their difficult jobs. 

And finally, Mrs. Zeiss shared with me that a group of eighth-grade girls decided on their own to continue a class project that began before Spring Break. HPA Storytellers, originally organized as extra credit for English, paired junior high students with K-1 classes to share their favorite books via Zoom. When the break came around, the enterprising 8th graders organized themselves to bring entertainment and comfort to the same young students. Lina W. said, “Lots of the time there was nothing productive to do, but I like entertaining young kids, so it was a perfect match.” Her favorite book was Edwina, which she read to both kindergarteners and first graders, along with Mrs. Beggs and the Wizard.

Natalie M. added that she “really liked little kids,” so she immediately signed on. “I enjoyed helping the community in the spirit of giving and loved showing pictures from the books.” Annabel H. said she joined HPA Storytellers after Spring Break because others told her it was fun. Amazingly, she hadn’t read English language books much as a small child. It wasn’t till second grade that she started reading English herself.

Cameron T. asked herself, “Do I really want to get up early and read to kids?” The answer was a resounding yes as she shared her favorite Skippyjon Jones books with her young audiences.

“I didn’t like reading as a kid either,” Lindsey D. added. “I had to find books on Kindle to read to the younger kids. It was really fun. My favorite book to read to them was The Worst Book in the Whole Entire World—that’s the title. Really!”

Lina W. entertains her Storytellers audience
High Point Storyteller Lindsey Du shares a book
Mrs. Zeiss and friends listen in

Whether classes resume in person or remotely—or in combination—these students have an engrained ethic to continue the good work of High Point’s Community Engagement Program. As things eventually get back to normal, or new normal, classes can again plan for their traditional events: clearing brush at Eaton Canyon, making biscuits and blankets for Hand in Paw Animal Rescue, collecting much-appreciate canned goods for Friends in Deed, and making care bags for children at Hillsides and Ronald MacDonald House, to name a few. The need will always be there, and I feel certain that HPA students will meet the challenge with confidence and compassion.

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