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Chestatee High School commits to community
Students participate in schoolwide service day
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A sign on the door at Georgia Mountain Food Bank greets student volunteers Friday for Chestatee High School’s Day of Service. - photo by NAT GURLEY

Students at Chestatee High School in Gainesville spent their class time on Friday serving the community with good deeds and improving their skill sets.

The schoolwide day of service consisted of students from all grades participating in different projects, some located at the school and others at local nonprofits around town.

In the event, called “Commit to the C,” grade levels focused on different areas including character, community, college and career, explained Mary Anne Collier, Chestatee math teacher and one of the program’s organizers.

The idea started last year as a daily seminar for seniors the last few weeks of school consisting of life skills and helpful information after graduation. After a positive response from seniors, the event was expanded to all grade levels and a full class day this year.

“Our seniors from last year gave great feedback and kept saying this needs to be stuff we learn earlier, so we decided that we would take some of that information and push it down into the earlier grade levels,” Collier said.

Collier and others on the program committee contacted local organizations to get involved and students were divided based on career interest.

“The group that’s interested in education, they’re going to go the one of the local elementary schools, and the group that’s interested in construction that’s led by a construction teacher, they’re going to go to the Habitat Humanity Restore,” Collier said. “So we were able to pair some of them together.”

Ninth-graders remained at the high school for character-building activities and to learn problem-solving and study skills.

Tenth-graders spread out to a number of nonprofits, with more than 100 students working at the Georgia Mountain Food Bank.

“We hope mainly that they understand hunger and more especially, food security — meaning that people don’t always know where their next meal is going to come from,” said Randi Dyer, food bank finance director. “And to understand it could be their classmate, their neighbor, people they go to church with. It affects everybody. And then to also give them the empowerment to feel that they can do something to change the world.”

Food sorted by students is being distributed this morning at a mobile food pantry in Lumpkin County and will serve 400 families, Dyer said.

Sophomore Mackenzie Staples said she enjoyed packaging the food to be distributed to families.

“It’s pretty awesome,” she added. “I would love to do it again.”

At First Baptist Church in Gainesville, 11th-graders participated in a Transition Fair, which featured a variety of educational and career opportunities for students. Vendors from colleges, technical schools, local businesses and the military were all present to talk with students.

Finally, seniors were involved in Catalyst, a career-readiness program put on by Junior Achievement of Gainesville and involving many other local organizations.

Catalyst focused on teaching interviewing skills and also included seminars on budgeting, social media, business ethics, and other topics presented by members of area businesses and associations.

“It’s really neat because there are so many people from this community, all kinds of volunteers we brought in,” said Lee Highsmith of Junior Achievement. “We’ve got business people, the (Greater Hall) Chamber of Commerce, entrepreneurs, people from all walks, from accounting to manufacturing, from government to artists — and they’re sharing with the students not only what employers are looking for but also what jobs are really needed.”

Senior Samantha Fons chose sessions on budgeting and getting hired.

“I think it’s really great that we have the opportunity to do this inside of school (time),” she said. “It’s really important to learn how to conduct yourself ... and it’s really great to get the opportunity to learn these essential life skills.”

Learning to collaborate, communicate and how to brand themselves are “life lessons that go well beyond what they’re learning in the classroom,” Chestatee Principal Suzanne Jarrard said.

“We want to know we’ve done the best we can to produce well-rounded students that are ready to contribute to our world.”