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Encouraging passion through action

Character education is a key component in building up successful students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Jonathan Jones, co-founder of Give 51, talks to students in the Carmel Middle School media  center about how his nonprofit was started, its mission and vision and accomplishments.

Jonathan Jones, co-founder of Give 51, talks to students in the Carmel Middle School media center about how his nonprofit was started, its mission and vision and accomplishments.

So when a group of teachers from Carmel Middle School were looking at the school’s improvement plan over the summer with a challenge to incorporate more leadership, they came up with a plan to encourage not only character education but also action.

Inspired by initiatives through their churches that encourage love in action and giving back to the community, the teachers wanted to help their students at Carmel make a difference in the world, all while showing students that passion can be found in the most unlikely of places.

“We thought it would be so cool if our kids could give back in some way. There are so many kids that receive and receive and don’t know how to give back,” Danielle Lefebvre, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at the school, said. “This generation is shaping the future. If they become a generation that does invest in the community, then we are going to set ourselves up for a better future. Why not start them young? Why not start them now?”

That’s why the school is launching a yearlong service-learning project, partnering with area nonprofits, parents, colleges and businesses to help spread some love in the Charlotte community and beyond. The teachers first brought the idea to Carmel Principal Marc Angerer, who encouraged the ladies to develop the initiative enough that it could be implemented school-wide. Now, sixth, seventh and eighth grades all are participating in the project, which officially kicked off Sept. 27 when students researched during their academic enrichment classes, or ACE, what it means to serve and why it is important.

Each Friday in October, the school has invited a nonprofit to come share its mission and vision. Organizations like Give 51, Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina, 100 Gardens, Urban Eagles, A Child’s Place and the American Red Cross all have visited the school so far. Invisible Children will visit Friday, Oct. 25.

“We wanted to vary the types of nonprofits we brought in as much as possible,” Brenda Goodbrad, an eighth-grade language arts teacher at the school, said.

But the project won’t end with October. In November and December, the students will research other local, national or global nonprofits. Parents, college and high school students and community members are invited to help facilitate the learning. Then, in January and February, students will create an outline and two-page proposal about why the school should support a certain nonprofit. In March or April, students will create a multi-media presentation to help convince classmates why they should support a specific organization.

By the end of the year, several organizations will have been chosen school-wide to support – students, staff and teachers and the school’s parent-teacher group are still collaborating on how they plan to support the nonprofits, whether through a benefit concert at the school’s annual spring arts festival or other in-house initiatives like a bake sale and/or car wash.

“There is power in the youth – there is power in their voices and power in their time,” Lefebvre said, adding that many times, it seems middle school students are overlooked. “We just want them to become advocates for something. They have to develop passions, and if they don’t, we’re not doing our job as educators. We want to help these kids recognize what they are passionate for.”

Goodbrad said the school already has been working to secure funding for the program, like applying for grants, in hopes students can participate in more service-learning projects on and off campus. Call the school at 980-343-6705 to sponsor or donate to the program, or to just volunteer.

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