There’s plenty for graduating high school seniors to look forward to in the spring. In Woodbury, in addition to all the parties and pomp and circumstance, students look forward to giving back to their community.
Since 2001, Woodbury High School (WHS) has instituted a senior service day for its students. It’s a mandatory school day, but instead of going to class, students spend four hours in the morning helping out in the community before coming back to school for a class picnic. “The kids have been brought up in the area since kindergarten and they’ve reaped a lot from the community,” says Robert Nunn, an English teacher and senior class advisor. “Senior service day is a way to give back to the community and say thanks for all they’ve done.”
Students sign up in April to help at an organization of their choosing on senior service day, which takes place the end of May. The list of options is huge, and can range from helping kids at the YMCA or a local elementary school to cleaning up or planting trees at a local park. Nunn reaches out to up to 60 organizations for the more than 400 seniors to choose from.
One of those organizations is Oak Meadows, a senior living facility just over the Woodbury border in Oakdale. Oak Meadows has been lucky enough to have students come by for as long as director of community relations, Kim Utecht Prayfrock, can remember. Most years, the students who choose Oak Meadows help out by doing gardening work and maintaining outdoor spaces. Students pull weeds, clean up trash and plant flowers or trees.
On senior service day, Woodbury High School seniors work on gardening and outdoor spruce-up projects at Oak Meadows.
After the work was done last year, “our residents were so thrilled,” Utecht Prayfrock says. “The garden looked so nice and we had just been champing at the bit to get things planted. The community members love when they can sit outside, and they always tell me the kids are working so hard.”
While the grounds are maintained throughout the year, everyone at Oak Meadows looks forward to the WHS students stopping by each spring. The work at Oak Meadows is a perfect example of how WHS has turned senior service day into a community event.
Across town at East Ridge High School (ERHS), students use their senior service day to help students of the future. Starting in the 2009-2010 school year, the first year that East Ridge had a senior class, faculty asked the students if they wanted to take part in a project. The students did, and they created a senior walk to raise money for a scholarship fund.
Students obtain pledges, and then walk around the track outside the school. All the money pledged goes into a scholarship fund that’s awarded to a student the following year based on his or her community service. “The walk is as much about student bonding and leaving a legacy,” says Gretchen Romain, assistant principal, who coordinates events with the senior class. “They wanted something that would bring the whole class together in one place.”
The walk has taken place at ERHS for several years, but is not a requirement. Romain and the faculty let students choose if they’d like to take part in a service day, so it’s a process that continues to evolve.
No matter what school they attend and how they choose to take part, Woodbury students have found a fun way to give back to the community they’ve grown up in. That’s a win-win for everyone.