Classroom project benefits and unites community

Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

What started as a classroom discussion in Avonworth teachers Jason Smith's and Melissa DeSimone's co-taught eighth grade civics class turned into a memorable event involving all of the eighth grade, as well as students from other grade levels and several adults.

“We started working on the project in January after a class survey showed that over 75 percent of eighth grade students felt the country was 'too divided' right now,” Smith said. “Students were challenged to find a way to bring their community together and build citizenship skills by making a positive impact that unites people.”

After brainstorming times and places where people felt “united,” students settled on sporting events and fund-raisers as examples. A 5k run that would raise money for a worthy cause or scholarship seemed to meet both of those objectives, with students selecting the Hannah Milbert Memorial Fund as the beneficiary for this event. Hannah, a sophomore who passed away in a fire in January, was a very good student, an excellent athlete and a friend to all. The project, “Chase the Antelopes 5k Run & 1 Mile Walk” generated immediate enthusiasm.

The event was planned from start-to-finish in civics classes, with students separated into five teams, based on an interest survey: design, promotion, public relations, sponsorship, and registration, with each team tasked with several objectives in order to reach the goals of the project.

Over the course of four months, students had to write letters and e-mails to businesses, community residents and school personnel; design registration forms, posters, a T-shirt, and awards; request funding from local businesses; create promotional videos; make posters; design the race course; inform residents living on the course of the event; submit a promotional article to local newspapers; create a social media plan; and manage the account for the event.

Last Saturday morning, all of the planning came together in an “A+” event that brought out 375 participants, 237 pre-registered for the 5k and 98 for the 1-mile, with another 40 signing up on the morning of the event.

Over 80 volunteers, students along with teachers, middle/high school assistant principal Dave Thomas, parents, members of the high school cross country team, Duquesne University sorority Gamma Sigma Sigma, as well as Ohio Township police and fire department members, turned out to assist Smith, DeSimone, and another of his top aides, physical education teacher Sherah Rothman, with organization and safety issues that included traffic control.

Days before the race, the public relations team had walked door-to-door in Cobblestone and Avonworth Heights -- Smith and other teachers accompanying them as chaperones for this "field trip" -- to inform residents about the upcoming event.

Runners were treated to two water stops in Cobblestone, and one in Avonworth Heights, all hosted by families of eighth graders Miracle Bynum, Anna Igims, and Keyaira Cameron.

“It was great to see so many families and young children with home-made signs, cheering on participants as they ran/walked through their neighborhoods,” Smith said.

Students and reading teacher Kathy Galecki teamed up for additional fund-raising by hosting a raffle table with prizes ranging from a one-year membership to Ben Avon Area Historical Association to Pirate tickets and gift cards. Topping off the fund-raising was a plant sale organized by teacher Laurie Winkworth and several students.

By morning's end, students had secured over $9,000 from the event through sponsorships, donations, the raffle, the plant sale and event registration, with proceeds being given to the Milbert family, who will apply it to a memorial scholarship.

“So many students and teachers made the event possible,” Smith said. “This project will also work toward the objective of building citizenship skills by giving students an opportunity to make a positive impact in their town by working closely with local government agencies, community groups, businesses and school officials.”

Selena Abernethy, whose team created the 5k winners' medals and trophies in tech ed class, said that she will always remember the way her classmates came together for Hannah's family. “I will never forget the work we put into it and asking each other for help. We came together and made this happen. We are a community, and on April 29, you could see how much of a community we really are.”

T-shirt designer Luc Azen also carries positive feelings about the project. “It makes me -- and I believe that I'm speaking on behalf of my classmates -- feel very good about myself, working for such a good cause. It's pretty cool to see people wearing the shirt around school, and it's pretty cool being able to say to myself, "Hey, I designed that!" I loved getting the hands-on experience of designing. I am very proud of my design, and it will live with me forever.”

Hannah's sister, Jennifer, expressed her family's appreciation. “We were impressed with the turn-out, touched by the continued support of the community, and excited that the memorial scholarship will be able to help other students experience traveling the world like Hannah so wanted to do.”