NORTH ADAMS -- When Drury High School English teacher Molly Meczywor presented a new year-long senior project assignment to students back in September, she was expecting to hear groans of lament. Instead, Meczywor said she got a call from a colleague in the guidance department saying that students were talking about how excited they were to tackle the work.

"In lieu of doing full class projects, I challenged my seniors to find a need in their local or global communities, tie the need to our academic curriculum and create a service project to address that need," Meczywor said.

This spring, students have been bringing their ideas to life with a range of activities, such as hosting a "Dodging Hunger" dodgeball tournament to raise funds for the Berkshire Food Project; working with North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright to conduct a feasibility study for a teen center in the city, and teaching classes about the crisis in Syria.

"It turned out to be more interesting than I thought. You actually get something out of it," said Drury senior Michaela LaPlante. She and her classmates Kasha Wissman, Morgan Lamarre, Tia Brown, Amber Ia cuessa and Emily Moulton recently sat down with The Eagle to share their projects and experiences.

LaPlante and Iacuessa, for example, along with classmate Megan Benoit, conducted a bottle drive at school and at a bottle redemption center in Bennington, Vt. to help raise money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Many students chose to address causes and projects they thought they had a personal connection to.

Wissman, Brown and Moulton visited Boston Children's Hospital to volunteer and do "syringe art" activities with kids, where plastic syringes are filled with paint versus medicine, and used to squirt colors and draw shapes onto canvases. Moulton said she used to visit the hospital to cheer up a friend who was there.

"In order to get the full experience [of these projects], you have to like what you're doing," said Moulton.

"You have to think out of the box too," Lamarre said.

Lamarre said she and classmates Cori Ghidotti and Maria Mazzu developed their project around their career interests -- caring for others in a medical setting. The three spent several hours volunteering at Williamstown Commons Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Lamarre said she liked the idea of the senior service-learning projects because, "It's always good to give back to your community."

Meczywor said she organized a curriculum for the senior projects with the help of Drury's service-learning program coordinator, Anne French. In addition to the projects, students had to draft plans, do research, write essays and communicate the various steps they took to implement their projects.

"One of the big pieces about service-learning is the ownership," Meczywor said. "This year, we decided to let [the students] demonstrate that initiative."

She said the students took off with the projects, making phone calls, fundraising event posters, collecting items, writing and filming promos for the school's television station and doing much of their work outside of the regular school day.

"In a way, it was cool to see the kids not need me. I think they've really developed and shown some 21st-century learning skills that will help with college and their careers," Meczywor said.

The teacher said she hopes the 66 seniors who worked on a project not only learned something new, but also had an experience that will stick with them.

Moulton said she felt the assignment accomplished that. "It opens your eyes to what's going on, and not just in your school," she said.

To reach Jenn Smith:
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