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On a recent Friday, the freshmen class at Vandalia Community High School was treated to a day out of the classroom.
That day, instead of learning about math, English or social studies, the students learned about both local history and the reward of serving their community.
This is the third year that VCHS instructor Greta Krueger has taken students to Vandalia's Little Community Garden to have them work with garden volunteers who are preparing for the annual Harvest Festival.
By working with the garden volunteers, Krueger feels, students learn the importance of community service and of working with others and with organizations that help other residents in their hometown.
The 100 freshmen were split into two groups, and the half that was not working in the garden was walking through the Old State Burial Ground to the west, participating in an exercise that helped students to learn about the early days of Vandalia and Illinois.
And then they switch.
Then, they are required to use their English skills to write essays explaining what they learned from the field trip.
In the first year of the project, Krueger took seniors on the field trip. She later decided that it would be better to take younger students.
"When they're seniors, it's almost too late to learn about some of the things we try to do with this," she said.
It's a different learning environment, one that is better for some students, Krueger said.
"Kids learn in different ways," she said. "Ones that don't learn so well in the classroom, it's nice to see them learning and taking leadership roles out here."
Through the project, Krueger has learned something herself ... or at least had her feelings about her students reinforced.
"If our children are presented with opportunities, they will take them."
What the Students Say
"I learned about projects in the community and what is helping the children and adults learn how to help and make a difference."
"I really enjoyed having the opportunity to help our community. It was an amazing experience, and I hope to go back and volunteer at the garden soon."
"It helped me to realize the importance of young people being involved in the community.
"Participating in the event made me feel important to my town and made me feel like I made a difference in my community. It was a great experience as a class to get involved helping and working hard together to get things done for the garden."
"The feeling you get when you know that you're doing something good, something that gives back (to the community), really fills in the hole that is left by endless hours of being extremely selfish."
"I am really thankful that I had the opportunity to help better my community."
"The project brought to light just how much our community could benefit from a little TLC."
"While working, I realized how dedicated these people (at the garden) are to their job, and how helpful and important (the garden) is to the community.