FHS students lend hand to preschoolers
Three Fairfield High School students attended the inaugural semester of a leadership cohort, and challenged to create and participate in a project to benefit their own community did just that Monday, offering preschool children back-to-school readiness.
A Leadership, Empowerment, Achievement, Progress Academy was launched in March at Indian Hills Community College with the goal, “To inspire future leaders who care about the success of IHCC 10–county region and to empower them with the knowledge that they can make a positive difference in what our region can achieve as we move forward.”
The academy is geared toward high school students in the college’s 10-county service region.
FHS juniors Jordan Whitney, Cheyanne Laux and Joe Hietpas were selected by principal Aaron Becker to attend the L.E.A.P. academy in March.
“We met three times in the spring at Indian Hills campus with high school students from other districts,” said Whitney. “We shared ideas and discussed leadership qualities and planned our community projects.”
Hietpas, Whitney and Laux each said they had not worked with young children before Monday’s preschool clinic.
“This is my first time,” said Hietpas. “It’s a new experience. We’ve had a few hiccups, but we tried to prepare for everything. We weren’t sure what to expect. We didn’t know if one or 50 students would show up.
“It’s a lot of fun seeing kids excited about going to school and getting supplies,” he said.
The high school students sent out information to families with preschool children registered at Washington Elementary School in Fairfield, where the district’s preschool program is located.
An hour into the clinic, which began at 5 p.m. at First Baptist Church, 37 preschool students and families had shown up.
“It’s a good thing, to have more than we expected,” said Whitney.
The group had received 20 replies that preschoolers would attend.
“Students are getting free backpacks with supplies needed for class, each one gets a lice check, then they walk over to the [Jefferson County Public Health] clinic and have a dental screening and receive any needed immunizations,” said Whitney.
Families and preschoolers gathered in a large room set up with tables and chairs at First Baptist Church. Snacks of cheese, crackers and fruit along with drinks were available. Seventh grade volunteers Lura Gamrath and Mia Ellis, replenished and assisted with snacks.
FHS school nurse Mary Hill used a church office for lice checks, while the three high school students greeted families and placed nametags on the preschool students and outlined the schedule for the evening. FHS teacher and sponsor of FHS Renaissance, Staci Wright, district staff Tara Johnson and Traci Waugh, along with parents of high school students, helped throughout the evening.
Laux walked the first group of students and families to the public health clinic and stayed with the group. A conference room there was available with papers and markers to occupy students while waiting to be checked at the dental screening, lead screening and immunization process.
Fairfield Community School District provided two school buses and drivers for the evening.
About a third of the students went first to Jodi’s Touch hair salon for back-to-school haircuts.
Owner Jodi Harwood and staff donated their time, expertise and materials to the preschool clinic, said Wright.
Another third of the preschool students boarded a bus to Walmart to be fitted for a pair of new shoes, compliments of the FHS student project.
“Walmart credited the project with $50,” said Wright. “Operation backpack provided the backpacks and school supplies. The leadership academy gave each high school group $100 toward their projects. Public health is donating its time and materials. Renaissance is paying for the free shoes and anything else.”
With more preschool students showing up than had responded, Wright was planning to purchase more backpacks and supplies as needed when she was at Walmart for shoe buying.
“Renaissance has the funds, it’s not a problem,” she said.
Laux said the Fairfield leadership group started out with bigger ideas.
“We talked about our plans with Mr. [Washington Elementary School Principal Jeff] Eeling and Mrs. Wright,” said Laux. “We wanted to include back-to-school clothes, too.”
With guidance from school staff, the high school students pared their focus to a more manageable project.
“It looks like it’s working well,” said Laux as she oversaw the families at the health clinic.
Whitney agreed he and his peers wanted a project that would have a lasting impact.
“We’re hoping this project can be continued next year and on,” said Whitney. “We’ve talked with Mr. Eeling and Chris Estle [director of public health] who’ve been a huge help to us developing this project.”
Hietpas said when first planning a community project, it was a big idea.
“This is manageable and making an impact,” he said. “We’re hoping it can be an annual event. Hopefully, it will get easier year to year.”
Hietpas, Whitney and Laux, now seniors, will attend the leadership academy once a month through December. Three juniors will be selected in the spring to attend as they did.
“We met once a month in the spring and I expect we’ll meet once a month in the fall,” said Hietpas. “We talked about different leadership opportunities and things to improve in Southeast Iowa.”
Wright said she wanted to acknowledge the Fairfield students for tackling the preschool clinic project and making a difference in their community.
Information about the leadership academy the on IHCC website www.indianhills.edu says:
“Learners enter the program in the spring semester of their junior year and continue through the fall semester of their senior year. The students meet at Indian Hills a total of six times, three times in the spring and three times in the fall. Over the course of the summer, students complete a service project in their community. Every school district in the Indian Hills 10–county region is eligible to send up to three students to participate in the program.
“During their on–campus meetings, students engage in a variety of hands–on activities designed to help them develop their leadership skills in the following areas: team building, goal setting, ethics, creativity, communication, handling conflict, problem solving, servant leadership and leading change.”