Helping students get glow of community service

This column originally appeared in a number of Minnesota newspapers during August, 2018


How to help students get the glow of community service

Aug 17, 2018

By Joe Nathan


The North Branch Area Public Schools district is doing something that I hope every Minnesota school will try: Every May it has a Community Service Day involving hun-dreds of its students, pre-K through high school seniors. Community and district offi-cials describe many benefits and minimal costs.

North Branch City Administrator Renae Fry told me: “We’ve been very pleased by the assistance from students. This includes conducting traffic counts; road, ditch and window cleaning; and painting. Student volunteer efforts have changed from year to year. I definitely want to say ‘thank you for the work.’ ”

Molly DeFrance, life enrichment manager for Ecumen, a nonprofit assisted living home in North Branch, explained that on the service day, elementary students come in-to the facility and sing for about 40 minutes.

“People living here love hearing the kids. They talked about it for many days after-ward,” she said. DeFrance also praised North Branch high school students who work with senior citizens throughout the year, not just on the special day.

Patrick Tepoorten, community relations coordinator for the school district, pointed out that even pre-K students get involved: “Sometimes they draw pictures or write notes to the seniors. Our younger students (K-3) generally visit with senior citizens on that day. We have many senior living facilities in the area and students will make cards for the residents and then visit to distribute those cards and perform songs, read books with residents, or just visit.”

Other things that students do include:

—Raking and general cleanup of city parks and municipal ball fields.

—Scraping out candleholders for cancer walks.

—Painting picnic tables and municipal snow plows.

—Cleaning up cemeteries.

Tepoorten said students volunteer in several communities that the district serves. In addition to North Branch, this includes Harris, Stacy and Almelund. The district also uses the day to respond to private requests for spring yard cleanup. As Tepoorten ex-plained: “Those are people who — for whatever reason — are unable to perform spring cleanup. The reason is usually illness or age.”

Jerry Schroeder, a 41-year, charter member of the Stacy Lions Club, believes the ser-vice day is a “great project.”

“Students are learning to work with others, and to make a difference,” he said.

North Branch has been doing this for about a decade.

District Superintendent Deborah Henton wrote: “Pat (Tepoorten) deserves all of the credit. He brought this idea forward and has organized the event for many years. I am so proud of his work, our students and staff. (The day produces) great connections with the community.”

Tepoorten responded: “My first exposure to it was the St. Croix Falls School District, which started its program around the year 2000. I thought it was such a great idea that it was the first initiative I proposed when I was hired here. NBAPS embraced the idea en-thusiastically and it has received incredible support from leadership, staff, students and the community ever since.” He’d be glad to share details of the Community Service Day with others. His email is

North Branch is helping its young people learn to be active, constructive citizens. Students also are learning about potential jobs and careers. I’d say youngsters are getting the glow of how good it can feel to help others. Hopefully many Minnesota schools and communities will learn from North Branch.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school educator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome at