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Fifth-graders learn benefits of looking outside self, pitching in for community

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The students pulled weeds from the bushes around their playground and from around the sign that greets visitors to their school.

About 130 fifth-graders participated in what has become an annual tradition at Maple Grove Elementary School. They fertilized the flower bed that visitors see when they walk into their school and picked up litter from their playground and outside basketball courts.

Teachers recruit fifth-graders for the annual beautification day project. Their goal is to help them leave a legacy at their school by cleaning it up, and to give them a lesson in community service.

“The main purpose is to have the students see beyond themselves,” said Betsy Leavitt, fifth-grade teacher at the school. “It’s important before they leave elementary school to open their eyes to something other than their smaller, inner circle.”

Elementary years are when students learn the benefits of helping others and the beginning of what it takes to be a good member of society, she said.

Teachers aim to give every student a chance to serve someone else before they go to middle school, she said. Some earn patches though Girl and Boy Scouts, helping others or volunteer in other ways, she said.

Helping beautify their school is one way to help students serve others and to give children who haven’t done community service a chance to experience it, Leavitt said.

“This might spur them on and make them think, ‘Oh, I can do this someplace else,’” she said.

Jadyn Tomes, a student at the school, worked on spreading fertilizer on a flower bed at the entrance of the school. Helping in the beautification effort gives students the confidence they need to go out and help others, Tomes said.

“Just from this day, you will be able to go out and do it for other people,” she said.

The annual tradition started about seven years ago. A group of teachers decided they wanted to keep their fresh, new school bright and clean. Maple Grove had moved from an older building on Morgantown Road to a new building on Whiteland Road.

Students carried trash bags and collected litter throughout the property, then planted perennials around the grounds.

Slowly, the project grew.

“It was never this elaborate,” Leavitt said.

Teachers secured grants to buy landscaping tools and mulch. A landscaping company has donated a tree.

The event has become an iconic event for the school, she said.

“The little kids see the fifth-graders come in and it’s exciting for them,” Leavitt said.

Improving the grounds has been a way for students to give back to the school before they move up, Tomes said.

“Some people have been here since kindergarten. Maple Grove gave us all they have, so we are giving back to them,” she said.

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