By Joan Goodchild Community Reporter
Shrewsbury – The sixth-grade students on Judith Avery's Purple Team at Sherwood Middle School have enjoyed this year's excessively snowy winter. No, it's not just the days off from school – it's the opportunity to shovel the white stuff that every snowfall brings.
The kids are part of a service-learning project that Avery, a 20-year-teaching veteran in Shrewsbury, spearheaded in 2002. The goal is to raise money for a good cause. But Avery doesn's allow any of the 50 students on her team to simply solicit money for the project. Funds have to be earned through some kind of job or service performed by each one of the students. That's where the snow comes in. It's meant plenty of chances to earn cash shoveling in recent months.
“In the fall, we get them started with a donation and they come and rake our leaves on a Saturday,” Avery said. “From there they'se got to find jobs. They got lucky this year with the snow. Every week they'se been shoveling.”
The funds raised go to NEADS (Dogs For Deaf and Disabled Americans), a nonprofit organization in Princeton that trains dogs, who help provide assistance to people who are deaf or physically disabled. Avery's students have been involved with NEADS for several years.
“It first started when one of the students said they would like to do a service project where dogs help people,” Avery said. “We started raising money for NEADS. It worked out so well, we decided to do it again.”
So far this year, Avery's team has raised $1,300 dollars for NEADS, which has enabled them to adopt three dogs. Students have even met some of the dogs. This year the team will attend the NEADS graduation in March.
In addition to the fundraising, the students write letters about their experiences to the incoming group of sixth-graders and share with them their thoughts and feelings about the project. It's a level of continuity and a shared team experience that Avery believes makes their participation particularly enriching.
The students have earned their donations and feel proud about their hard work and contribution to such a worthwhile cause.
“One of the biggest things the students tell me is they like the feeling they get when they have done something for someone else,” Avery said. “And it means more because you did it from the heart. You didn's just go out and solicit money.”