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SCC students learn to serve community

Nine students, ranging from sophomores to seniors, are enrolled in the first-ever service learning class at St. Croix Central High School. They are, from left to right, (front) Krysta Fisher, Danielle Clark, Brittany Briggs, Hayley Hawkins, (back) R.J. Moore, Tom Harris, Devin McNamara, Luke Brown and Dan Holland

With one project at a time, the service learning class at St. Croix Central High School is enhancing the villages of Hammond and Roberts and the school district.

Nine students, assisted by teacher Chris Buckel, have developed and are implementing seven service projects in the new class. Projects are required to directly benefit the communities or school district.

Basically, explained Buckel, the students think of an idea, then explore various avenues to help complete and hopefully implement them.

"I want them to be able to look back in 10 or 20 years and say 'I did that for the school or community,'" Buckel said.

Students need to go through the channels to get their project approved, like R.J. Moore who presented his idea to the school board in February. He plans to hang signs stating that there's no smoking, tobacco use or violence allowed on school grounds, but needed the board's permission before he started pounding nails into the buildings.

If the students need money to implement their ideas, they need to find a way to get it, whether through fund raising, petitioning clubs and businesses or financing it themselves.

Some projects are difficult, like Devin McNamara who is trying to get a skate park in Hammond. Others are smaller. If there's enough time in the semester, Buckel said students will do multiple projects.

The projects

"Every single idea they've come up with is pretty interesting," Buckel said.

Danielle Clark was one student who knew what she wanted her project to be before the class was even offered. She's organizing a gay/straight alliance for the community.

"Basically, it's for people of different sexual orientation," she said. "I'm forming a group to get to know each other, support each other and hopefully end homophobia in this area."

Clark, who is openly gay, said are no gay groups in the school district that she knows about. Nearby communities River Falls and Hudson do have groups.

It's been challenging to be the only openly gay student in the high school this year, Clark said. She has no outlet to vent about her experiences and troubles, even though others confide in her about their own sexual orientation, she said.

Besides guidance from Buckel and a few others, Clark said she's planning the group on her own.

"I'm just winging it," Clark said with a smile.

The first meeting of the gay/straight alliance is Monday, March 16 from 4-5 p.m. in a conference room in the high school. After that initial meeting, Clark said she expects to have more plans for the group, like how often they'll meet.

Clark will be graduating in May. She plans to major in political science then go to law school, focusing on gay and lesbian rights. If the group is successful, Clark said she'll stick around the area and go to the University of Wisconsin-River Falls for a few years.

"I'm hoping the group stays strong. I'll still be here if it is," Clark said.

Krysta Fisher, a sophomore, said she started the class this semester with three ideas. Eventually, she decided to make new student packets for the high school.

"I thought this one would help the school more than the other ones," she explained.

Fisher said when she was a new student in her elementary days, she was given a packet with community and school information. The high school currently doesn't have anything like that, she said.

So far, the hardest part of her project has been getting out of class to take pictures and videos, Fisher said. She's planning to include a DVD of interviews with about half of the teaching staff. Pictures of the other teachers will be on the DVD too.

Also included in the packet will be a letter from Principal Glenn Webb and a list of activities offered. Fisher said she's hoping to get coupons and business cards from area stores as well.

Since she has three years left at the school, Fisher said she hopes to keep updating the packets until she graduates.

"It's been a lot of fun," she said.

Brittany Briggs' project could potentially reach people all over St. Croix County. She's developed and launched a free Web site to exchange goods.

Briggs' site can be found at www.communityex Anyone can register items they want to get rid of, or items they need. Everything on the site is free.

To register a give-away or a need, users fill out a form with their phone number or e-mail address. Interested people can use that information to initiate the trade.

Briggs said she got the idea from talking to people at her church.

"They thought it'd be a good idea," she said.

Weebly is a free Web hosting and template site. Briggs said it took her about a month and a half to get the site ready to go.

"There's not a lot of maintenance," she said. When she graduates in May, she hopes someone else from school will keep an eye on the site.

"I'm hoping to get a good number of people using it, and it can help other people using it," she said of her goals.

The future of service learning

There is no shortage of ideas for service learning projects in the school or community, Buckel said. If anything, there's a growing supply.

"Now that they've got a feel for what the class is, ideas are springing up," Buckel said. Students have gotten input from other teachers and some community members.

Even though she knew what her project would be ahead of time, Clark said taking the class helped her get going to form the gay/straight alliance club.

"It gave me courage to go with it," she explained.

Fisher added that the class helped her stay motivated for her packet project, and also gave her time to get work done for it.