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Bountiful students try their hands at service

Published: Friday, Oct. 12 2012 6:23 p.m. MDT

Fifth-graders plant tulip and crocus bulbs at Washington Elementary in Bountiful on Friday, Oct. 11, 2012. Students at Washington Elementary School are piloting a new program that requires each class to do a good deed in the community.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

BOUNTIFUL — It isn't yet winter, but the students at Washington Elementary School are already excited for spring.

"We are going to be so proud of ourselves," said 10-year-old Kaelie Schwab.

She and 43 other fifth-graders planted 130 tulip and crocus bulbs in the otherwise dirt-filled planters in front of their school on Friday. It was part of a Good Deeds Challenge, started by the Rocky Mountain Care Foundation, that aims to bring a love of community service to elementary school-age children.

"We'll know that we planted them," Schwab said, as a grin inched across her delicately freckled face. "I like flowers best."

Denise Perez, 10, said the school gives them so much, it's about time they paid it forward.

"They give us breakfast and books and stuff," she said. "I like to help the school because it helps me."

Each grade level at the Title I school carefully selected a different service project that will be completed by students before mid-November. Their aspirations include gathering pennies for Primary Children's Medical Center, writing and sending letters and pictures to U.S. Marines, collecting used books and reading to younger students, and recycling certain items.

"As a public school, we have a lot of service that is done on our behalf," said Principal Liz Beck. Aside from federal funding, she said the students at Washington Elementary have received new shoes, eyeglasses and other benefits from members of the community.

A group recently voluntarily painted a colorful map and lines on the school's playground, nearly 85 individuals — not all of them parents of students — visit the school weekly to participate in reading programs with the kids, and the school has a small but dedicated PTA that works diligently to provide students with a variety of extracurricular experiences.

"It's kind of a good thing for our kids to also learn how to give back," Beck said.

Lupe Mamata, 10, said the school helped provide Christmas for her family last year, which made her "feel great." An older brother was going to cover the cost, but Mamata said having the school involved gives her more of a reason to give back.

Nicholas Berge, 11, said it's "cool" that the bulbs will come up every year in the future.

"I hope they turn out to be teenagers who help others and adults who can see that others do so much for them and even someday, that they teach their own children the same values," said Karen Hildreth, mother of fifth-grader Bridger Hildreth.

She said the family's religious background has helped them to instill virtues of service and helping others in their children, as there are often many church- or Boy Scout-sponsored opportunities to serve.

As parents, Hildreth said she and her husband take every chance they get to talk about the benefits of service, which go further than getting a good feeling from helping others.

"A lot of our kids have never done any gardening whatsoever; they live in apartments and don't often have the opportunity to do something like this," said Washington Elementary fifth-grade teacher Edd Williams.

He said planting bulbs is a school beautification project that will help bring a greater sense of self-esteem to students and to the neighborhood, as a lot of people drive by the central Davis County location and "they will hopefully notice that someone cares about our school."

Washington Elementary is the first school to implement the Good Deeds Challenge, and Rocky Mountain Care Foundation executive director Dede Fluette said it is an extension of the community service their organization already provides. The nonprofit organization assists low-income individuals or those in Davis County without insurance, with essential health care services, equipment, pharmaceuticals and more.

"We strongly believe in serving the community here at our foundation and the hope is to spread this message to children in the community," Fluette said.

Following the culmination of the various projects next month, the students will celebrate their good deeds together with a pizza lunch, donated by community vendors such as Ogden's Grounds for Coffee and Bountiful's Pizza Pie Cafe.

But the idea is really to teach students that service is its own reward.

Williams told the students that in addition to planting bulbs, they are welcome to perform service at any time, including holding the door for others, helping to pick up trash and many other options.

"You might get something out of it, but that's not why we do it," he said.

As the students pointed to where they planted each of their bulbs, they couldn't help but feel good about themselves, Mamata said.

"There is a lot of negative out there, I like to help them see something good every day," Beck said.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com, Twitter: wendyleonards

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