Sixth-grade students at Randall Middle School will be the first to test out a new elective offered for a trial period along with their other electives.
The class, Think, Learn and Serve, teaches critical thinking through service learning. The idea stemmed from sixth-grade teacher Kristi Verdi's after-school service-learning council that started last year.
Service learning integrates community service and learning with the goal of teaching civic responsibility.
The class and after-school group are funded by a $5,200 Florida Learn and Serve Grant.
"My hope is to work this class into social studies and other classes and eventually carry it on to high school," Verdi said.
If Verdi's trial class draws enough interest, students may be able to take the class for the full second semester. There's also the possibility that it could get a permanent spot as an elective for middle and high school students.
Until now, she said, service learning was something that students did with Scout troops or church groups.
The only connection with service- learning activities and school has been that service learning hours are tracked by students who are applying for the state's Bright Futures Scholarship.
"It's important to teach our students how to build good character," said Verdi, who believes that it's sometimes taken for granted that children understand the concept of service learning.
The class is designed to teach kids how and why people help their communities.
"If you see a need, brainstorm," said Randall principal Gretta Johnson. "Pay it forward."
Johnson believes many parents do a lot of community service through civic groups, but wonders if they take the time to explain the benefits.
Verdi pulled together a curriculum based on ideas and concepts from her after-school group, the Randall Area Youth Service Council.
Last year, the group recruited 125 student volunteers who cleaned 2,000 pounds of garbage from the Alafia River area. But it wasn't just about showing up and picking up trash. Verdi incorporated an educational aspect to their cleanup by having the students research what project they wanted to do, find their own volunteers and learn about the river and its history.
On another day, they targeted invasive plants in Aldermans Ford Park. In four hours, they gathered 12 large trash bags of air potato vines and 60 pounds of air potatoes.
The students are responsible for thinking up their own service project and finding ways to make it happen.
Their latest project is a combined effort of the Youth Service Council and the Think, Learn, Serve class.
The goal is to fill 1,500 gallon bags with care package products to send to U.S. troops.