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Aurora -- The spirit of community service has been spreading fast among Aurora High students during the past three years.
Taught by Mike Rubin and Melissa Foster, AHS's service learning classes have grown from an enrollment of 14 students two years ago to 24 last year to more than 80 this year, either for the fall or spring semester, said Rubin.
"We think it's a wonderful class," said Rubin. "We started three years ago to try to teach kids that there's value in service."
Rubin said the class has evolved over the years -- from being a typical class with a lot of reading and information passed down from the teacher to this year's class, which is almost entirely student-driven.
"We let the kids pick the topics, so they buy in," he explained.
The topics the class is covering this semester include human trafficking, animal abuse, domestic violence, homelessness, drug addiction and special education.
Rubin said the class voted on those topics at the beginning of the course.
AHS student Hailey Trecarichi explained how the class is set up.
"For each topic, we have three committee leaders, and it's very student-run," she said.
Rubin said the class usually will learn about a topic, get an understanding of the problems it poses, then try to develop a service project around it.
AHS student Megan Levanduski agreed the class follows the students' interests. "Anything you think matters, you can bring into this class and make people aware of it," she said.
ONE OF THE first projects the class took on was a school supplies drive, said Trecarichi, with items collected for several weeks in September.
Rubin said donations were taken at the Greenmen Depot at the high school, and AHS student Bella Consentino said the whole community supported the drive.
"Not only was the school involved, people were calling the office to drop off school supplies," she noted.
That may be because the class publicized the drive online, in the Advocate and in the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church newsletter, added AHS student Ethan Walker.
"We also ran a bake sale," he said. "Kids in class volunteered to sell baked goods and coffee."
AHS student Meghan Mihalik said some of the supplies were sent to Louisiana, which recently experienced severe flooding.
"We picked school supplies because of what happened in Louisiana at the beginning of the year," she said. "We thought it would be an appropriate thing to do."
School supplies also were sent to the United Way of Portage County's Big Red Bookshelf, said AHS student Caroline Siedel, and the class also built bookshelves for the organization.
"Part of the money from the bake sale went toward making the bookshelves," she said.°
Walker said the class built the shelves themselves. "Constructing those took six hours over two days," he said.
The class recently finished its drug addiction unit and launched an awareness campaign as its drug addiction project, said AHS student Katie Gordon.
THE CLASS is selling 1,000 bracelets with "High on life, #drugfree" printed on them and a drug addiction hotline on the inside, she explained.
"We also plan to conduct a survey to get numbers for our school -- to see how big the problem is and what we can do to fix it," she added.
Consentino said students do community service individually at sites in Aurora and nearby communities. One annual tradition is part of the class' homeless unit.
"We all go to the football stadium and sleep outside overnight," said Rubin. "Last year, the weather was moderate. Two years ago, it was 32 degrees. When the sun goes down, it feels like zero."
The point of the exercise is to help students understand what it's like being homeless, he added. This year's classes will stay out overnight Oct. 20.
Rubin said the class also will adopt a disability for a day, as some students will be wheelchair bound, others will be blind and others will be deaf.
"Just like being homeless, you can read about being blind or deaf or not able to walk, but to do it for a few hours is life-changing," said Rubin.
Siedel said the course's first homework was to do a random act of kindness each day and record it.°
Walker said one of those random acts drew gratitude for the class. One of the class members said "hi" to another student, which made that student very happy.
"The student's mom came in and told us how much it was appreciated," he said. "The family was happier just because of one little thing that made that girl's day."
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