RCHS students and service: a winning combination

It’s less than halfway through its first year, but if Beth Gall’s presentation to the Rappahannock County School Board last Tuesday night (Oct. 8) is anything to go by, the high school’s newest class — service learning — is already a big success.

Courtney King is volunteering at the Sperryville Volunteer Rescue Squad as part of her service learning experience. Courtesy photos.
Courtney King is volunteering at the Sperryville Volunteer Rescue Squad as part of her service learning experience. Courtesy photos.

Former Rappahannock County Public Schools superintendent Dr. Aldridge Boone had the initial idea for the program, which mandates potential RCHS graduates accumulate a certain amount of community service hours as part of their graduation requirements. Before his resignation last February, Boone handed the program’s reins over to Gall, who has taught earth science, environmental science and horticulture for the past 30 years.

As part of her efforts to spotlight academics at the school board’s meetings, superintendent Donna Matthews asked Gall to give the board (and the small crowd gathered Tuesday night in the band room) an update on the class.

The quick take: It’s a huge hit with both the students and the organizations offering them volunteer positions.

“Thanks for the opportunity to gush over eight wonderful students,” beamed Gall.

Ashleigh Pullen, who’s always wanted to be a firefighter, rode along on her first call with the Washington Volunteer Fire & Rescue squad Oct. 4.
Ashleigh Pullen, who’s always wanted to be a firefighter, rode along on her first call with the Washington Volunteer Fire & Rescue squad Oct. 4.

The idea behind the program, Gall said, is to take students and match them with a volunteer site somewhere in the county. However, the class isn’t just community service: “There is a learning component which separates it from regular community service,” Gall said.

Monday is an in-class day, Gall said, with all eight students working from a college-level textbook, writing journal entries and preparing their year-end research projects. The journal entries, Gall said last year, will be used to make a presentation at the end of the semester, providing a measure of progress as well as something to add to a resume or portfolio.

The next three days see the students sent off to their various work sites, though Gall said that leads to the biggest problem the class has run into — scheduling.

Nathan Strother has been working at the Food Pantry loading and unloading food and helping stock the shelves.
Nathan Strother has been working at the Food Pantry loading and unloading food and helping stock the shelves.

“Not every worksite is open every day,” said Gall, who added that she’s tried to solve the problem by putting the three students whose sites are closed on Wednesdays to work in the library.

Friday again sees all eight students reunited under one roof, though this time it’s at the elementary school and the Old Washington School to help package and distribute the food backpacks for the county’s highly successful backpack program.

The rest of Gall’s presentation focused on highlighting exactly what each student has spent their semester doing, and the results impressed everyone in attendance, drawing several murmurs of “That’s great,” from members of the audience, most vocally from Hal Hunter, who was presented with the inaugural Community Partner in Action award from Matthews, in recognition of his promotion of that backpack program at the elementary school.

Emily Allen (left) and Diana Loya are working with students at RCES, developing a service-based reading list and getting each student his or her own library card.
Emily Allen (left) and Diana Loya are working with students at RCES, developing a service-based reading list and getting each student his or her own library card.

Courtney King, already a junior member of the Sperryville Volunteer Rescue Squad, is continuing her work with them as she works toward becoming a certified EMT. Due to her membership status, Gall said King is authorized to ride along with response calls, and has already done so several times. “All of her reviews are glowing,” said Gall, proudly.

Senior Ashleigh Pullen is also working with a rescue squad. “I had no idea beforehand, but all she wants to do is be a firefighter,” said Gall. Pullen is working with the Washington Volunteer Fire & Rescue squad and went on her first call Oct. 4, as the WFVR escorted injured football player (and service learning classmate) Nathan Smith off the field during the homecoming football game.

“There was this glow out the ambulance doors as it pulled away,” laughed Gall.

Emily Allen and Diana Loya are both volunteering at the elementary school. Loya is developing an ESL (English as a Second Language) kit for foreign exchange students, while Allen is developing a service-based reading list (all of which are available at the county library) and taking younger students to get their own library cards.

Nathan Smith (left) and Ben Estes have been working with RappFLOW to help restore the pond at Avon Hall.
Nathan Smith (left) and Ben Estes have been working with RappFLOW to help restore the pond at Avon Hall.

Ben Estes and Nathan Smith partnered up with Rappahannock Friends and Lovers of Our Watershed (RappFLOW) to help with the Avon Hall property clean-up. Estes is working to help restore the pond by testing the water quality; Smith is helping plant and cultivate native plants, as well as with the butterfly trail. The now-injured Smith is continuing to help, Gall said, by recording RappFLOW’s data on computers.

The Strother siblings, Nick and Nathan, are volunteering at the Food Pantry and Rappahannock Historical Society, respectively. “Nathan’s been a huge support at the pantry,” Gall said. As most of their volunteers are older, Nathan has been helping unload the many boxes of food from the delivery trucks, as well as stocking the shelves.

Nick Strother partnered up with with the historical society’s John Tole to help digitize the society’s documents.
Nick Strother partnered up with with the historical society’s John Tole to help digitize the society’s documents.

Nick paired himself with historian John Tole, the man behind the county’s Civil War trail markers, in digitizing the society’s documents to help further preserve them. “He speaks a language I don’t understand,” said Gall, “but he’s enjoying what he’s doing.”

All the students have raved about their work at one point, said Gall, and so far the course has exceeded every expectation. There are already seven students signed up for next semester’s class, and though they’ll likely be working at the same sites as the current group, Gall said she hopes to offer more options (and entice more students) when the class enters its sophomore year next year.

“If there’s anything wrong with it, I haven’t figured it out yet.”