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Students Lend Helping Hand

DALLAS -- The morning of Tuesday, April 5, wasn't the typical volunteer work party at the Delbert Hunter Arboretum.

DALLAS -- The morning of Tuesday, April 5, wasn't the typical volunteer work party at the Delbert Hunter Arboretum.

Sure, longtime volunteers were out in their rain gear working on projects and maintenance. But toiling alongside them that morning were 15 LaCreole Middle School leadership students.

This was the second time the middle schoolers were able to spend the morning lending a hand as part of a partnership between the school and the arboretum.

Work parties earn students service learning credit, but also something that can't be measured on a grade report: learning what it means to be part of a community.

"I think it makes them aware of this beautiful space out here," said leadership teacher Julie Petersen.

Jamie Richardson, LaCreole's assistant principal, said he brought students from Morrison to the arboretum when he was principal there and decided to schedule similar trips with the LMS leadership class.

"It was a natural fit," he said, adding that the class will be making at least one more trip to the arboretum this year.

All three of the planned projects -- planting Oregon Grape, preparing the upper meadow area for planting of native grasses, and spreading cedar tow on pathways -- were finished in record time.

"They have boundless energy at this age," Petersen said of her students. "I think they were surprised about how much work we could get done last time."

Paul Mannen, an arboretum volunteer, ran out of tasks for the students to tackle the first time the group joined the work party in January, so April 5 he planned more. He still didn't give them enough to do.

"It's a good lesson for me," Mannen said. "Plan more."

Through lending a hand, the students also learned lessons.

Jenna Friesen, an eighth-grader, said this was the first time she had spent time in the arboretum. Nearing the end of the morning in which she learned about and planted Oregon Grape and spread cedar tow, Friesen said the trip was worth it.

"It was a lot of fun," she said as her team waited on another load of cedar tow to be delivered.

In the short time period between waiting on the next load of shredded cedar bark, the kids would laugh, joke and just enjoy their time outside of class.

Through their work, it seemed, they were developing an appreciation of the space they were helping to improve.

"It's interesting," said eighth-grader Aly Vergin of her first time volunteering. "I like how they have a big area that is `naturey.'"

When asked if she would be heading back to the arboretum to admire the work done by volunteers, her response was: "Definitely!"

Others echoed her statement. For the teachers and volunteers, that is just one of the many successes of the day. Adding up what the class was able to finish, arboretum volunteers said it would take several work party days to accomplish what the students handled in less than three hours.

"It's wonderful the amount of work they have done today," said arboretum curator Nancy Lenon.

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