Higher learning

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By John Foster

Their posture is one of easy confidence and their eye contact is unfailing. Have eighth graders always been this articulate? Perhaps the confidence of youth acts as a substitute for the confidence of experience, but these eighth graders act like they have been giving presentations for years. But for many students, the eighth-grade project fair Feb. 15 at North Oldham Middle School was their first publicpresentation. Project coordinator Angela Newcomb said she wasn’t sure all 255 eighth graders would buy-in to a project. It requires students to spend a minimum of five hours helping a community service organization, write a reflection piece and present it to groups of teachers and peers at a project fair. This is the third year for the eighth-grade project. Newcomb said she wants students to experience community service, get a taste for the difference one person can make and continue a lifestyle of community service.She wants to break the stereotype that middle-schoolers are all self-centered. Newcomb said she was impressed with the quality of work her students displayed. All 255 eighth graders came through and three or four teachers were driven to tears by the projects, she said. Then there are the stars of the class. Lindsey Adams could be considered one. She disagrees with Newcomb’s assessment. Maybe calling middle schoolers self-centered is an accurate assessment, she said. Still, she has shown a measure of others-centeredness through the project. She’s been to Gilda’s Club Louisville on four or five occasions to play with children there affected by cancer. She learned that helping others doesn’t have to be boring. It can actually be pretty fun, she said. Caleb Clingon was inspired by the selflessness of those he helped with Operation Christmas Child. He worked at St. John’s United Methodist Church to fill 1,184 shoe boxes with school supplies, hygiene products, clothes, toys and books for children all over the world. “Just things we take for granted,” he said. The local effort was part of a 36 million box effort nationwide, Clingon said. He charted where all of the boxes traveled, and learned the geography of some tough-to-pronounce places along the way. One thing in particular impressed him after reviewing the data – more than 100 boxes went to the war-torn region of Iraq and Iran. And someone had to take the boxes there. “People still wanted to help, risking their lives just to make a child happy,” he said. Bailey Rose went for a day to help at the Kentucky School for the Blind and The American Printing House for the Blind. She found a group of 6- to 12- year-olds who were much like other students their age. They like to have fun, laugh and play with their friends like anyone, she said. She was impressed with the independence of the students. As for presenting their work to peers and teachers – a prospect daunting to many adults – these youths approach it with aplomb. Rose performs musical theatre, so no big deal, she said. Clingon said after the first presentation, he settled his nerves. After all, he was just explaining what he’d done – how hard is that? Adams said her mother coached her in the art of public speaking – maintain eye contact and remember that the audience is there to listen, not judge. And lastly, “Just have fun with it.”E-mail us about this story at: