Seventh-grade students in Spanish classes at Jones Middle School have taken on a service-learning project in hopes of bringing supplies and financial assistance to students in Puerto Rico still impacted by a devastating hurricane.

On March 5, about 70 students in classes taught by Pattie Mendoza and Becky Searls kicked off a campaign to collect school supplies and raise money for eight schools in Hormiguero, Puerto Rico, that were severely damaged by Hurricane Maria in September.

The students planned to continue collecting items such as books, writing utensils, backpacks, hand sanitizer, tissues, notepads through April 6. They also hoped to build on the $565 already raised to pay for the items to be shipped, as well as to buy more supplies, via jonespto.com/donations/.

"Our current theme of study is 'School around the world,'" Searls said. "Students are learning Spanish vocabulary related to school supplies, teachers, classes, clubs, sports, etc.

"This project allows for a way to use that vocabulary for a real purpose -- to create lists of needed materials in Spanish and English, promotional (and) advertising materials for their peers to advertise their supply drive and, hopefully, eventually to use the content we are learning in pen pal interactions with our Puerto Rican school connection through written letters and perhaps a FaceTime or Skype call."

The project also ties in with a districtwide initiative called service learning that seeks to instill a myriad of values in students, including philanthropy, leadership and global learning and thinking.

"Service learning takes place in a variety of ways at Jones -- schoolwide, grade level, team, individual class and student driven," said Molly Meily, a sixth-grade English language arts and reading teacher at Jones who heads the school's service-learning program. "Service learning at Jones and throughout the UA district is vitally important to students' learning, engagement and empowerment.

"When students identify real issues in their community or beyond, and teachers connect the issue to the curriculum, it is the perfect blend of authentic, organic teaching and learning. Service learning enriches the learning experience for students by integrating academics with relevant learning, civic responsibility and social justice. The learning is meaningful, long lasting and everyone involved benefits."

Through the Partnerships Make a Difference organization, Searls was able to connect with Amy Palmer, a first-grade teacher at Heritage Elementary in the Pickerington Local School District, whose class recently sent more than $1,800 and more than 3,000 pounds of school supplies to assist Hormiguero schools through a collections drive.

Palmer, in turn, put Searls in touch with Yasmil Jaskille, an attorney in Hormiguero helping to assist schools and rebuild the city of about 17,000 residents in Puerto Rico's western region.

During a March 29 video call with Searls' class, Jaskille said the Hurricane Maria gusts of up to 200 miles per hour devastated all regions of the island, destroying property and natural resources like coffee and citrus crops.

He added that about 300,000 left Puerto Rico in the wake of the storm, and many who remain are struggling to regain basic necessities of water, shelter and electricity.

"It hit everyone," Jaskille said. "It didn't matter what geographic location it was, and it didn't matter if your house was big or small.

"For right now, there are people here that they're homes are destroyed. There are still people who have no water. There are still folks who have no power."

Given circumstances, Jaskille said the assistance being provided by students from Ohio is needed and appreciated.

"The few resources the government has are going to build roads and remove debris, and the schools are the ones that are suffering. These (donations) are all little things, but it actually goes a long way in helping people in need."

Searls said the discussion further bolsters students' understanding of Puerto Rico and the hurricane's impact as they continue to promote their collection drive to other students at Jones as well as the entire community.

"Service learning is an excellent way to engage students in real-world, genuine learning," Searls said. "It is messy and presents a real challenge to solve.

"While it is a lot of work, it allows for students to have a lot of 'voice and choice' in what they are working on and with whom (or) how they work. I have engaged the students in forming and joining various committees to brainstorm different aspects of the tasks we need to complete to pull this off, from communications to advertising to fundraising, etc."

Searls said the primary objective of the project is to help Puerto Rican students get back to learning, but noted it also benefits her students.

"Students also have the opportunity to use their novice Spanish skills to connect and communicate -- and with native speakers, which will probably motivate further study of the language -- and, of course, there are so many curricular tie-ins across content area, which make the learning more engaging for kids."

Several of Searls' students confirmed her hopes for the project after the video call with Jaskille on March 30.

Ethan Fahrbach said the project led to extensive study about Puerto Rico before it took on the philanthropic aspect, which he called "kind of cool."

"You'll remember it for a long time after it's done," he said. "We can make a huge impact."

He agreed with classmates Gwyn Jones, Elena Fernandez and Isabella Dick, who said they've developed organizational skills and the importance helping people in need.

"Service learning is like, you have the choice if you put that information into your head," Dick said. "You learn about what you're doing and go deep into the topic instead of just doing service."

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