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Middle School Teaches Giving, Teamwork

A group of seventh graders from Elm Middle School shows off a certificate of appreciation from Heifer International. (Photo Courtesy of Elm Middle School)

A group of seventh graders from Elm Middle School shows off a certificate of appreciation from Heifer International. (Photo Courtesy of Elm Middle School)

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ELMWOOD PARK, Ill. (CBS) - You learn the most by doing. At Elm Middle School in Elmwood Park, the lesson for every homeroom class is about giving, and about working together to make a difference.

For the third year in a row, every seventh and eighth grader at the northwest suburban school is taking part in some kind of a service project. Each homeroom brainstorms ideas, and picks one or more of the projects to work on during the school year.

This year, Ms. Flanagan’s and Mrs. Kazuk’s homeroom is raising money and donating it to Heifer International, an organization that works to end hunger and poverty all over the world. The seventh grade class helped purchase a flock of chickens for a family. Heifer’s strategy is to give families a source of food instead of just short-term relief.

“The family was taught how to raise and continue to benefit from having the chickens. The family can now depend on themselves,” Flanagan said.

Now, Flanagan said, the class is raising funds to purchase tree seedlings for another impoverished community.

At the same time, Ms. Rhodes’ eighth grade homeroom is doing some planting of their own. The students are growing indoor houseplants and native prairie plants. It’s all part of a fundraiser for Save the Prairie Society, a non-for-profit preserving and restoring the Wolf Road Prairie and buffer lands in Westchester.

Other service projects made this past holiday season a little easier for those less fortunate by collecting food and warm clothing.

Three homerooms, those of Mrs. Bartolomei, Ms. Byrne, and Mrs. Laux, worked together to feed two local Elmwood Park families at Thanksgiving. Each eighth grader from those three homerooms brought in a food item. The classes also decided to raise money to purchase gift certificates toward the turkeys. They did just that by selling baked goods after school.

“The students learned a lot about giving, the spirit of Thanksgiving, and working together as a team. We feel this was a huge success,” Laux said.

Mr. Mrkvicka’s class sold hot chocolate and donated money and clothing to Adopt-A-Family for Christmas. The seventh graders’ contributions were enough to provide gifts for a local family with two kids.

Mrs. Ritter’s seventh grade homeroom also collected warm clothing and blankets.

“The students were really excited about helping others in need,” Ritter said.

In about a month’s time, fourteen boxes and large bags of donations were collected and passed on to the needy.

Elm Middle School’s hard work and generosity has touched the lives of those as close as down the block, and as far as half way around the world. But, the school year isn’t over yet, and the giving continues.

Do you know of an individual or organization making a difference in your community? Tell CBSChicago.com about it. E-mail Paul Cesarz at pjcesarz@cbs.com.