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Teaching by example: Volunteer efforts help Bemidji-area nonprofits

Teachers and staff from local charter schools participated Monday in a variety of community projects. Representing TrekNorth Junior & Senior High School, in front, from left, Mark Larson, Chance Adams and Charlie Merhar, and, in back, Kirby Ganske, left, and Erica Harmsen pull brush from Movil Maze in a section of a single-track mountain bike trail. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

By Bethany Wesley

BEMIDJI – While Theora Snyder scrubbed down a countertop at the Headwaters School for Music & the Arts, Rita Poulton was pulling weeds outside of the Boys & Girls Club of the Bemidji Area.

They were among charter school staff members who spent Monday morning volunteering at several Bemidji-area nonprofits, offering some “elbow grease” to accomplish a variety of projects.

Local charter schools emphasize the importance of community volunteerism to their students, incorporating it into their curriculum. The work done by staff was a way for adults to show students that they, themselves, also work to better the community.

“I love it,” said Travis Malterud, a first-year paraprofessional with Voyageurs Expeditionary High School, as he swept the floors at the Headwaters School for Music & the Arts. “I try to volunteer at the soup kitchen myself. It’s awesome.”

Poulton, who for 12 years has been the business manager for Schoolcraft Learning Community, said it was good for community members to see charter schools working together with the nonprofits.

“It’s nice to get out, to do the kind of work we want our students to do,” said Ann Skoe, a second-year Spanish teacher with TrekNorth Junior & Senior High School, who, like Poulton, was working outside of the Boys & Girls Club.

Community-service activities also offer an opportunity for staff members to interact with one another outside of school, she noted.

“We get to know each other and learn more about each other,” she said. “It’s a way for us to know more about Bemidji and the community.”

Staff members learned of their community-service assignments as they drew cards to see who would go where. Co-workers Ruth Webb and Kathy Joppa, both paraprofessionals with Voyageurs, spent their morning working outside of Village of Hope, doing yard work like mowing and weeding.

“I haven’t mowed in a long time,” Joppa said.

But the two seemed to be enjoying it, each grabbing hold of one end of a picnic table to carry it across the lawn.

“To me, it’s not just about the volunteering, but its meaning and who we’re helping,” Webb said. “It just gives us a good feeling.”

Community service is included in many of the schools’ activities, Webb noted. Students take part in food drives and highway cleanup, for instance.

“That’s what we’re all about,” she said. “This is a really nice springboard into that.”