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South Side Middle School students give back to the community

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Students at South Side Middle School are learning what it means to be a hero, and that heroes can take on different forms. The students have also been encouraged to not only recognize various local heroes, but to also show appreciation for their sacrifices in some way. Early last Wednesday, a group of seventh-graders met in the South Side Middle School auditorium to pack up bags and boxes of supplies they brought in to be donated to homeless veterans through Beacon House.

As part of the seventh-grade English Language Arts program, about 300 students were asked to participate in several projects as part of the National Day of Service and Remembrance on Sept. 11, which both teaches the significance of recognizing others for heroic actions and encourages students to engage in community service oriented activities.

“We wanted to have the kids do something to commemorate those who lost their lives and make them aware that it’s a time for service,” English teacher Jennifer Monsour said, “and it’s not just about the first responders.”

Starting on Sept. 11, she asked her students to choose two out of three projects to participate in: writing five thank-you cards to veterans, collecting donations for Beacon House or participating in the Tunnel to Towers Foundation virtual run, which honors Stephen Siller, a firefighter from Rockville Centre who died on Sept. 11, 2001.

Monsour said that the students read an informative text about Siller last month, and last year a number of students ran the race. This year the event was virtual, and she said students could participate in any way they chose to commemorate, whether by lighting a candle, saying a prayer, or running on their own time, and writing about it. For Monsour, the connection is personal: she was a friend of Siller’s, and also had his brother as an English teacher in high school. “I try to inspire my kids the way he inspired me,” she said. I try to make them feel empowered and understand that they have a vital role in the world. And sometimes, focusing on helping others can help alleviate the stress that they might be feeling in their own lives. It’s a wonderful way to start the school year and I try to capitalize on it throughout the year and foster that idea of service in them.”

Seventh-grader Anna Calabrese participated in the Tunnel to Towers virtual race by walking 3.5 miles with a friend. She also helped with the collections to the Beacon House. “It was a really nice thing for us to do, because small things can have a big impact,” Anna said. “People are on their phones all the time and distracted, and in the grand scheme of things…it’s most important to remember these people and what they’ve done for the country.”

Student Nicholas Fochetta wrote thank-you cards to veterans and donated personal care items and food to the Beacon House.

“It feels good to help people that protected you,” Nicholas said.

Seventh-grader Charlotte Rocafort made thank-you cards and also donated canned goods and other items, and said she felt the lesson was an important one to learn. “It’s not just a school project, but something everybody should be doing every day,” she said. “It’s not about getting a good grade, its about being a good person. It’s something we should be doing on a daily basis. It’s good to give back.”