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Middle school class is making a difference

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By Brenda Sexton

The Courier-Herald

When Enumclaw Middle School music teacher Lynda Alley was challenged with teaching home economics this fall, she decided to take the traditional sewing and baking class and give it a fresh “community service” twist.

“I wanted it to be passionate,” Alley said. “As a passionate band and orchestra and opera teacher, I was not willing to be less than passionate about this class.

“I'm not used to teaching classes that don't touch other people,” she said. “Orchestra, band, opera, those performances move people. This had to move people, too.”

The class, titled “Make A Difference,” lets the 30 seventh- and eighth-grade students use the home economics skills they learn and turn their completed pieces into outreach projects for the community.

Armed with a small budget, Alley funded much of the materials herself, she's finding the benefits reach beyond her students' newly-acquired sewing and baking prowess.

She said students have learned how to work together toward a common goal and learned to help those in need. And, perhaps the biggest achievement, they've learned to live with their decisions - once the class committed to producing blankets, scarves, quilts and Teddy bears to comfort young patients at Tacoma's Mary Bridge Children's Hospital, they had to follow through.

“In the end it's like we had a culminating class project,” Alley said.

Mary Bridge Children's Hospital was chosen because one of Alley's aspiring fifth-grade orchestra students has recently spent time there and, she said, it made the connection easier for students.

Monday morning, a hospital representative was scheduled to come to EMS to collect the students' donated items and make a presentation on childhood diseases - another opportunity to learn.

“As students with all their faculties and health they can be really ungrateful. It's just their age,” Alley said. “It's good for them to see other kids their age, with all these illnesses, and see nobody robs them of their life or their dreams.”

Alley also discovered the class had additional benefits. Similar to a quilting bee, while working together on their projects, students were encouraged to gab.

“One of the main benefits of this class,” she said, “is unlike other classes where the kids are told to be quiet, this was designed to talk, to socialize, to solve eighth-grade problems.”

Although the cooking and baking side of the class didn't involve the same community outreach, Alley took the opportunity while students were serving and eating to teach etiquette and manners. She also turned “Make A Difference” into “Bake A Difference,” where students' baked goods were presented as giveaways to let others know they were appreciated. Some cookie trays went to staff at surrounding schools, others went downtown to businesses.

It's a 12-week class and, as the first trimester winds down the second will gear up, likely with a new project and new beneficiary.

Alley said there is no end to the things the classes can do, like creating special clothing for the handicapped or making book bags or other special carriers for walkers.

“I haven't tapped the surface,” she said. “We can keep meeting the needs of the community. We can be their workforce.”

Brenda Sexton can be reached at bsexton@courierherald.com.

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