CORTLAND — Students at Lakeview Middle School turned helping the community into fun this holiday season with their “Reindeer Games.”
Working with the school administration, eighth-graders Isaiah Lantz, Chelsea Walker, Will Kirila and Alex Bates each chose a local charity to support and then organized a slew of events and competitions for their classmates — with each participating student playing to earn points and raise money for their team or charity of choice.
“It feels like we’re doing something important,” said Walker, who chose the Warren Family Mission as her charity because she’d heard her mom talk about it and “loves what they do for the people.”
Lantz chose to support United Way, Kirila chose Veterans Outreach in Youngstown and Bates chose the Autism Society of the Mahoning Valley, saying, “I think that there are a lot of people who struggle with autism that don’t get the same opportunities we do.”
The idea for the games — which included everything from a volleyball tournament to hula-hooping, an art challenge, trivia, a “blizzard” math challenge, gingerbread house building and a “musical masterpiece” blind music competition — began when the students were discussing whether girls could play football, said Walker. From there, they decided boys could play volleyball and sought to organize a boys’ volleyball tournament. At the same time, the students needed an idea for a “problem solver” project in their English class — and eventually the two ideas became one and grew to include a little something for everyone.
The problem-solver project originally was supposed to be a summer project, said middle school English teacher Sydney Stein, but it became a yearlong endeavor.
“I didn’t want to assign a book project over summer,” Stein said. “Now, I want (students) to experiment with leadership and being advocates in their community.”
Stein said she is proud of the students and excited to see them working to make real change.
“I think what I like best about this project is that it was entirely student-driven,” school Principal Ashley Handrych said. She said she also is glad the students learned the holiday season isn’t just about getting gifts — it’s about giving, too.
“It feels really good,” Kirila said of the project, adding, “We raised a lot of money.”
Friday, middle school students also were allowed to wear a hat — or hats, as one student wearing a fedora over a flatcap proved — for a $1 donation. At the end of the day, the charity whose team earned the most points won the money collected for the hats, according to Handrych.
Before the final funds were tallied, Handrych estimated the students raised approximately $1,300 — though she said it wasn’t just about the money; it was about the students getting excited about helping the community.