Stewart Middle School students have been putting the thanks back into Thanksgiving this month.
The 516 students and many of their families have organized a food drive and invited their neighbors to contribute and celebrate with them Thursday at Stewart Gives Back Night.
The centerpiece spaghetti dinner, principal Janet Gates-Cortez noted, is not your ordinary school spaghetti. This is the school cook's personal masterpiece, the one that leaves diners begging for the recipe.
First on the agenda was assembling all the donated non-perishable items into 25 food baskets. Kale Iverson's students will harvest fresh kale, chard, beets and carrots from the school garden to add with the turkeys next week.
That's where we can kick in a little help. This is the year of no cheap frozen turkey sales, Gates-Cortez noted. Just look at the grocery ads. So far, Stuart has only two turkeys committed.
That leaves you eligible to earn a prized Panther Paw.
If you live in Stewart's East Side Neighborhood, chances are you know all about the Paw cards. Merchants and residents can request a stack of them from the school. Then, when they see a Stewart student setting an example of kindness, help and respect, they fill out the card with the child's name, date and nature of the worthy deed.
The cards have a lovely effect on the children who earn them, Gates-Cortez said. Those comments tell children that their neighbors notice them, and respect and like them. They tell them that they are valuable citizens, and they encourage them to continue on that good path.
Bring a turkey, or money to buy one, to Stewart early next week, and you, too, can get a pat of the paw.
You'll have earned a place in the Communities that Care program that has operated in and around Stewart for five years. It's a six-year grant that gives the school extra resources to invite families and neighbors into school life.
“Our focus is on preventing bullying and supporting giving back,” Gates-Cortez said. Stewart Gives Back Night is part of it, as are neighborhood screenings and discussions of an anti-bullying film so powerful that Gates refers to it simply as “The Film.”
Lawyers, real estate agents, police, Safe Streets groups, Catholic Religious sisters, Gibson Gardens residents and Pacific Avenue merchants, including Josefina's Mexican restaurant have gotten involved with Stewart through the grant, Gates-Cortez said. “It's been like getting a big hug.”
And it's working.
“We are seeing big changes in behavior. Kids are more settled,” she said.
It's the norm now that when Stewart kids go on a field trip, the feedback is about how attentive and courteous they are.
It's a powerful change, and one we can support with something as simple as a frozen turkey.