A tradition of going into their own community to learn about philanthropy and provide services to others reached a 10-year milestone this year at Hastings Middle School.

Principal Robb Gonda remembers well the first HOP Day -- short for Hastings Outreach Program.

He was roughly a week into his first year as principal at the school, which was a sea of activity as students and staff shuffled out of the building to embark on a myriad of community service projects they reflected on when they returned to class later that day.

It was a bit stressful, he recalled, because everyone was leaving the school en masse. But the benefits of the services they offered to people in communities throughout central Ohio -- and the learning opportunities the activities provided -- were inspiring to him.

"It was a grassroots effort by the staff at Hastings," Gonda said. "We built it from scratch. A service-learning day like this hadn't been done, to our knowledge at that point, at that scale. It was amazing to see all the kids doing this great work."

The tradition continued Aug. 31 with the10th annual HOP Day.

This year, eighth-graders set out for the Mid-Ohio Foodbank to perform all manner of tasks to help prepare meals and get them to people in need. That included working with teachers and parent volunteers to pack and distribute food for the organization's Meals on Wheels program, and to deliver food to area pantries, senior centers and residences.

Hastings seventh-graders went to work in several Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks, where they picked up trash, pulled weeds and learned about ecology and invasive species of plants.

The school's newest students, its sixth-graders, also got into the act. During the morning, they were responsible for canvassing neighborhoods around Hastings with teachers and volunteer chaperones to collect nonperishable food items that Upper Arlington residents placed outside their homes. The food they collected was donated to the Mid-Ohio Foodbank.

Some sixth-graders worked with Hastings staff members to clear grass to make way for two new garden boxes constructed in the shape of a U and an A, respectively. The garden boxes were provided by the Upper Arlington Education Foundation.

"We have plans to use the vegetables (from the boxes) in the classroom for recipes and we would eventually like to donate it to food pantries, have a Hastings farmers market with the funds going back to the garden and we would like to maybe even use it in the cafeteria," said Elizabeth Blank, a Hastings social studies teacher who helped organize HOP Day activities this year.

In the afternoon, sixth-graders also learned about homelessness and made mats from discarded plastic grocery bags that will be donated to resource centers that will pass them on to homeless people for use as bedding.

Gonda said HOP Day still carries the same message and learning opportunities as it did its inaugural year.

"HOP Day was started by a group of teachers at Hastings who wanted to bring service learning alive in the building," he said. "At that time, we had a motto about being a creative and caring community.

"This team of teachers tried to mold those ideas together in a fun way that truly benefited our kids. The staff at Hastings and our HOP Day committee work hard to provide a great kickoff to service learning for the year."

Gonda said that by the end of the day Aug. 31, Hastings students would have completed more than 40,000 hours of community service just through HOP Day alone.

As has been the tradition over the years, the students returned to school following their outreach projects to watch a video slideshow of the work they'd accomplished. The video is meant as a fun way for students to reflect on the work they performed, Blank said, and students then were asked to put those reflections in writing.

"Working in the garden is a good experience for everyone," sixth-grader Audrey Dingus said. "It involves teamwork and a smiling face."

Sixth-grader Christine Lee also pointed to the benefits of teamwork that HOP Day and the garden work instilled.

"We do better with each other than by ourselves," Lee said.

nellis@thisweeknews.com

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