Beeman Elementary rolls up its sleeves

NEW HAVEN —  Beeman Elementary School kicked off its annual community service projects this past Friday with kindergarten through sixth-grade students collaborating on eight projects that will span the course of March under the theme “Kids Helping Kids, Seniors and Beeman.”
Teachers, community members and a group of Middlebury College mentors all volunteered their time to help with the projects.
What are kids at Beeman doing to help other kids? They are making pillows and arts and crafts kits for children at Vermont Children’s Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care.
The goals of the pillow-making project are to teach kids how to sew, build their confidence by creating a product and present their final product — a pillow — to children at the Children’s Hospital. After sixth-grader Jackie Reiss learned to sew one day earlier, she finished making three pillows in just an hour on Friday.
The room adjacent to the pillow makers that day was bustling with children making arts and crafts kits from a wide range of materialsincluding feathers and paper plates.
“We’re making these for other kids,” said one child.
Two projects are under way to help the older members of the community: “Senior Stories” and “Games at Project Independence.”
Last Friday, students working on the “Senior Stories” project prepared questions for senior citizen interviews that will be conducted and recorded by Beeman students at the Project Independence Adult Daycare Center in Middlebury. Questions they developed included:
•  Did you do anything bad when you were little?
•  Did you ever fight in a war?
•  Did you have a computer growing up?
After conducting interviews with seniors about their childhoods on March 18, Beeman students will compile their recordings in a video that they will then give to seniors.
Outside of the computer lab where the “Senior Stories” crew was preparing, another team of students was learning how to play various board and card games, such as Checkers, Connect Four and Go Fish. In the coming weeks, these students will also meet with seniors at Project Independence and spend time playing these games.
Another group of students under the guidance of art teacher Michaela Granstrom and Twitchell Hill Pottery owner Shelly Doyle really dug into their “Kids Helping Beeman” project. Using a portion of the 100 pounds of clay bought with funds from the Tari Shattuck Foundation, these youngsters began working on a project to make approximately 100 bowls for Beeman’s annual “Harvest Supper” in autumn. 
The group made more than 50 bowls that will be kiln fired and glazed in preparation for the fall celebration.
Meanwhile, a different group ofstudents led by Principal Steve Flint began constructing a “ga-ga pit” for a game called “ga-ga ball.” The game is similar to dodge ball, but less isolating and much more complicated. Ga-ga ball can take on many forms and is usually played in an octagonal rink, or “pit.”
The Beeman ga-ga pit will be constructed from 2-by-12-inch lumber that when stacked on top of each other give the pit a total height of two feet, which provides ga-ga players with ample space for bank shots. The pit contains the game in an octagonal space with a diameter of about 30 feet and will be located outside, next to the playground.
Duke Jevry and Todd Larson, construction contractors by trade, volunteered their time and resources — bringing along many tools including a miter saw. Since the crew is currently ahead of schedule on construction, the kids should be going ga-ga by the end of the month, weather permitting.
Students also teamed up on Friday to begin work on a big Relay for Life collage in support for the Middlebury event on April 29 and 30. Middlebury’s Relay for Life event is an American Cancer Society fund-raiser planned by students at the college every spring that draws in hundreds of local participants.
The last project, “Baking for the Foodbank,” was held in the cafeteria. Students made heaps of baked goods like chocolate chip cookiesthat they then will donate to a local foodbank. The particular foodbank has yet to be decided.
The hands-on approach to these projects, gives Beeman students a different way to develop and demonstrate skill sets.
“Those kids who maybe struggle academically are often the stars of this kind of thing. It gives them a chance to excel,” said head organizer of the community service projects Julie Olson, who is Beeman’s Enrichment and Student Support Services Coordinator.
Finding the time amidst tightly woven state and federal educational guidelines and required tests to take this different slant on education can be difficult, Olson noted.
“We had to ask ourselves, can we afford to give up an hour and 40 minutes on Friday afternoons to do something really valuable,” she said. “It has to be a group effort where everybody says, ‘Yes, this is important.’”
Beeman Elementary considers itself a central part of the Addison County community. As a part of this larger community, the students, teachers, and staff at the school realize that giving help is equally as important, if not more, than receiving it, Olson said..
“There is always something bigger than just you,” she added.
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected].

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