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By ANDREW SKERRITT
Published November 27, 2007
This time of year, most 12- and 13-year-olds are consumed with what they want for Christmas.
Thankfully, seventh-graders at Gulf Coast Academy are learning that it's cool looking out for others.
Social studies teacher Ann LaPlant challenged her Spring Hill charter school students to find ways to change the world based on the movie Pay It Forward. The 2000 drama is based on Catherine Ryan Hyde's book by the same name. The concept goes like this: When someone does you a big favor, don't repay that person, do someone else a favor.
These students are blessed with pretty comfortable lives; they usually get what they want. LaPlant, who lives in New Port Richey, asked them to step outside their school, interact with people and give something back. It's one thing for a teacher to give a lesson; it's something special when students actually get it. This assignment clearly means more than a good grade.
Take student Jake Gregory, 12, for instance. He decided to make angel necklaces with ribbons, butterfly paper clips and beads and sold them for a dollar each. Two weeks ago, he handed over $505 in dollar bills to the Veteran's Action Project, a nonprofit organization that helps veterans in Pasco and Hernando counties.
Jake's donation helped pay for gift baskets for vets for Thanksgiving. Now Jake, whose mom, stepfather and grandfather are veterans, wants to raise another $1,000 by February when the assignment ends.
Among LaPlant's 44 students, no two projects are the same. One collected donations at a local gym over the Thanksgiving holidays to buy bikes for the Hernando Sheriff's Office annual holiday toy giveaway. Another student is collecting hygiene products for girls at a local shelter, while a classmate is collecting shoes to send to folks overseas. That student set out trying to collect 25 pairs of shoes, but her church has challenged her to collect 75 pairs instead.
While some students try to help people, others want to care for animals. For their project, they're either raising money to help pay for spaying and neutering or trying to provide blankets for cats and dogs in the animal shelters.
Not every initiative is as ambitious. One student sold 25-cent homemade bookmarks during the school's book fair to raise money for a local children's hospital. The student collected more than $25 - that's more than 100 bookmarks sold. Not bad.
This assignment has taught some students that giving their time and energy is just as important as donating money. One student volunteers at the Nature Coast Botanical Gardens in Spring Hill, while a classmate spends weekends picking up trash at a nature preserve in Weeki Wachee.
And then there are the students who find what they need in their own back yard. One student who raises chickens sells fresh eggs at school for $2 per dozen. The money goes toward basic food and shelter needs for people in impoverished Haiti.
That gift goes a long way.
Andrew Skerritt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602.
[Last modified November 26, 2007, 20:28:17]