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Shaler Area 8th-graders work to impact community

| Monday, Nov. 4, 2013, 12:03 p.m.
Bethany Hofstetter | Shaler Journal
Shaler Area Middle School eighth-grader Garrett Reinsfelder boxes canned goods during the school-wide 8 White Cares team-led canned food drive.
Bethany Hofstetter | Shaler Journal
Shaler Area Middle School eighth-graders Laurynn Kratsa, left, Darian Pedrotty, Kyara Lang and Garrett Reinsfelder collect canned goods during the school-wide 8 White Cares team-led canned food drive.

A team of eighth-graders at Shaler is working to make a difference in their school and the community.

The 128 students, from five home rooms, have organized themselves into a form of democracy with monthly town hall-style meetings in which they discuss what they would like to see happen this school year.

From the meetings, the students developed a philosophy of “8 White Cares,” a reference to the students' team color and the direction of their activities for this school year, with a focus of community service.

Their first organized community-service project was a schoolwide canned food drive that ran Oct. 21 through Nov. 1.

“8 White Cares is about us coming together as a community and helping people around us,” said Lily Buckshaw, an eighth-grader. “We're not just kids in school; we're here to make a difference.”

Physical science teacher, Jay Hellinger, who is on the 8 White team, said he suggested holding the town hall meetings as a way to get the students more involved in their team and school year.

“I'm a big believer in social awareness, and I think when we started to talk about a community project, my idea was they need to take ownership, so we gave them a voice,” Hellinger said.

While the town hall meetings are led by the 8 White team teachers, students are encouraged to create the agenda and bring issues or ideas to the open forum.

“I thought it was important they have a voice in the things they do and take an active participation in (their) own education,” Hellinger said.

Already, the students have brought up topics that have resulted in changes to their tutorial study period and a list of possible community-service projects.

“It gives us a sense of freedom to pick what we want to do,” said Marc Kwiatkowski, an eighth-grader on the 8 White team. “We have an opportunity to talk about what is wrong or what we need to change.”

During the 8 White team food drive, the students worked to engage the entire student body to collect more than 1,400 canned food items to benefit North Hills Community Outreach's food pantries.

Many of the students on the 8 White team said they are excited to see the success of their canned-food drive and about having more of a say in the activities of their school year, and they are looking forward to seeing what else they can accomplish this school year.

“I think they'll get a lot more participation and a lot more people getting involved with how our school day runs,” said Wyatt Wolf, an eighth-grader.

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or bhofstetter@tribweb.com.

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