When students run the show

By Todd Fuqua

This semester's Destination Imagination class at White Mountain Elementary (l-r), Jacob Light, Titus Rust, Zoey Wheelus, Gillian Stephens, Lily Lewis, Madison Lutterman, Gwen Fuqua. (Photo by Todd Fuqua)

RUIDOSO – Imagine a class in which the students are in charge.

Destination Imagination students (l-r) Zoey Wheeles, Lily Lewis, Jacob Light, and Gillian Stephens sing songs to residents at GoodLife Assisted Living. (Courtesy photo)

That’s pretty much the situation with Destination Imagination, a class at White Mountain Elementary.

Seven students in fourth and fifth grades are taking part in an edifying community service project at GoodLife Assisted Living, and it was all their idea.

“It’s all completely student-driven,” said Jennifer Staski, who teaches the class. “I had to sign a non-interference contract, stating that I will not interfere in any way with any of the students’ ambitions or goals.”

Instead of telling the students what to do or how to do it, Staski is there more as a resource guide, to provide the students with the means by which they can achieve their goals.

Destination Imagination student Jacob Light mugs for the camera with residents at the GoodLife Assisted Living home. (Courtesy photo)

Their goal this semester was to visit GoodLife and bring a little joy and happiness into the residents’ lives. They did the research, they called the care center, they set up the visitation hours.

“We talked about how a lot of people put their family members in nursing homes and never really visit. It’s usually really depressing’” said student Madison Lutterman. “It’s important to give them some joy and get them a little more active.”

One student was even able to bring in a therapy dog during the visits.

Destination Imagination students Madison Lutterman, far left, and Gillian Stephens, far right, pause with a GoodLife Assisted Living resident as students Jacob Light and Titus Rush horse around. (Courtesy photo)

“We chose the nursing home because they don’t get to go out, they don’t do the fun things that the rest of us do,” said fourth grader Titus Rust. “We thought we could go there and brighten their day.”

But it’s more than just a do-good, feel-good project. The students are required to chart their progress, creating surveys to give to the residents in an effort to track the good their visits are doing.

“They go every week for two months each Wednesday, playing cards with them, singing songs with them,” Staski said. “They’ve also been conducting surveys asking them if they remember the kids, were they excited to know that we were coming, to see if we had any impact on their emotional state.”

“Every time we go there, they seem to be getting happier,” said student Gillian Stephens. “They’re talking more and not as shy as they were before.”

White Mountain Elementary student Madison Lutterman plays card games with a resident at GoodLife Assisted Living. Lutterman is part of the Destination Imagination class that has visited the care center every week for the past two months. (Courtesy photo)

“I love making people happy and love to see that they enjoy us being there,” added Lilly Lewis. “

The end result of all this research is a presentation, due for the March 24 State Destination Imagination competition in Albuquerque.

There, the students do more than show the charts and tell the audience of their findings, they also have to engineer and build a box which transforms in some way, illustrating the change they made in the community through their visits to the care center.

This is the second year of Destination Imagination at WME, with four students returning for their second year and getting to know those new to it all.

Staski said it’s been remarkable to watch the students’ transformation.

“They’ve had to learn how to work together, that’s been the biggest challenge,” Staski said. “We have seven very ambitious kiddos making all this possible. I have seven leaders, and they’re having to work together and compromise.

“They always amaze me with what they can accomplish,” she added. “I always wonder how they can pull it off, and they always do, somehow.”

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