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Not just lip service for Seven Springs student volunteers

Students in the Learn and Serve Program like Taylor Akers, 13, left, and Morgan Wiley, 12, meet Winter the dolphin and create multimedia projects to promote volunteering with animals.

MICHELE MILLER | Times

Students in the Learn and Serve Program like Taylor Akers, 13, left, and Morgan Wiley, 12, meet Winter the dolphin and create multimedia projects to promote volunteering with animals.

Students in Service Learning classes at Seven Springs Middle School had a banner week last week as they saw one of their long-time projects get approval from the County Commission while embarking on another project to help local wildlife.

The class, which teaches the value of reaching out to the community and various school groups and sometimes prodding government officials for approval of pet projects, was in jeopardy after losing its funding. The community rallied this year behind founding teacher Cindy Tehan and provided funds for the class to continue.

Now, Sidewalks for Safety, a student effort to have walkways installed on the west side of Little Road, from Old County Road 54 to Trinity Oaks Boulevard, is a go. The project was started four years ago by Zoe Pappas, Danielle Kuener and Chelsi Mackin, who are now seniors at J.W. Mitchell High. After various setbacks, the current students in Cindy Tehan's Lead the Pack class resurrected the effort with the intent of having it approved before this year's high school graduation. Last Tuesday, Luccas Borges, 13, and Matthew Sandoval, 14, went to the West Pasco Government Center to address the County Commission, which approved the project. Students hope to see the work begin before the end of the school year.

"It just shows you the power 13- and 14-year-old kids can have," said service learning teacher Dorothy Taylor.

Last Wednesday, 25 students and five chaperones traveled with Taylor to the Clearwater Aquarium for another pet project to learn about the care of rescued sea animals and what kind of volunteer and career opportunities are available in the marine field.

"Marine biology is one of the more popular careers for middle school students," Taylor said. "It's right up there with NFL football player."

Of course they met and heard the story of Winter the dolphin of movie fame, as well as how dolphins Nicholas, Panama and Hope also ended up there. They snapped pictures of Cocoa, a sea turtle that was injured by a boat, and freshwater otters Cooper, who had been hit by a car, and Oscar, named after the Sesame Street grouch after being found next to a trash bin as an orphaned pup. Upon returning to school, students planned to edit video and pictures and transcribe their notes to create PowerPoint presentations and iMovies to help promote student involvement.

"I love making video and movies," said Caitlyn Casper, 13, who kept a safe distance to film her classmates getting a good soaking from Nicholas the dolphin.

It's the second project this year for Taylor's students, who also adopted kids who are at Youth and Family Alternatives' RAP House in New Port Richey. In recent months students provided clothing, personal care items, school supplies and free aquarium tickets.

"We like helping kids our age, and we wanted a local cause," said Megan Whiley, 12.

"We wanted them to know that there's someone for them — someone to back them up," said Taylor Akers, 13.

That project was also a dear one for Matt Johns, 14, who spent the day taking a slew of pictures at the aquarium for his PowerPoint.

"Animals are cool and I like them, but I kind of like helping humans more because it gets to me more," he said. "Most of the kids at RAP House are abused and need to get away from their families. It makes me sad that they don't have parents to talk to or want to talk to."

Not just lip service for Seven Springs student volunteers 12/13/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 13, 2011 4:30pm]

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