While most high school kids are busy learning algebra and social studies in traditional classrooms, several hours a day, students from Payson Center for Success step outside the box of learning and give back to the community.
For four students, their unlikely teachers are the residents at Powell House, an assisted living retirement home on West Longhorn Road.
For the second year in a row, students volunteer four days a week for four hours at the retirement home. They do various tasks like manage phones, paperwork and visitors. However, they also nurture relationships with residents, something the students never thought would interest them.
For PCS teacher Linda Gibson, this is the greatest success of the program.
“The students get to see the other end of life — the spectrum,” she said. “It bridges the generation gap.”
While some of these students might be classified as bad because they are younger, the residents get to see who they really are, she said. Moreover, the students, who possibly think of senior citizens as just old and crazy, learn what they are about and their life history.
“They learn to have compassion between the two.”
All students who attend PCS are required to give back to the community for at least five hours each semester. The program is called Dragonheart, and is designed to get students into the community and expand their personal horizons.
Besides broadening their horizons, Gibson said the Dragonheart program aims to erase the stigma in the community that PCS students are bad or poor students.
“This is not the case at all,” she said. While they have a few former dropouts and pregnant teens, the majority are normal high school students who do better in an alternative learning environment.
“Charter schools were created for kids who don’t fit in traditional school structure,” she said.
“They need something different, not harder or easier, just different.”
Students have elected to do a number of things to get their volunteer hours, ranging from the Headstart Program with preschoolers, to the Trunk or Treat Halloween program with the town, to Habitat for Humanity.
“Once a PCS student has made someone else feel good and they themselves feel good, we just can’t seem to stop them, they are always looking for more, generating ideas and projects all on their own to bring back to our school site,” according to PCS’s Web site.
After volunteering, some students realize this is a field they are interested in working in after graduation.
Senior Kendra Huston said she wanted to do something new and different with her time. After first, she wasn’t interested in working at Powell House, but after volunteering with the residents, she really enjoys spending her afternoons there.
Super senior Rachel Belen, who has only worked at the Powell House a week, agreed.
A self-proclaimed jabber box, Belen said she fits in perfectly at the home because she loves interacting with others. She is not afraid to put herself out there and meet new people.
“I get along with everyone, it just comes natural to me,” Belen said.
After only half an hour, Elicia Morigeau, Powell House director, noted that Belen had already held a mini therapy session with one of the residents. She predicted Belen would go into social work.
“The students are a Godsend,” Morigeau said. “I am so thankful they are here.”
Besides interacting with residents, the students do a lot of administrative work. One student even helped Morigeau complete the state audit.
Last year, Morigeau explained she was new at the Powell House and did not know where a lot of paperwork was. A student volunteer offered to find any paperwork she couldn’t find to complete the audit.
“I did not realize high school students could help with so much,” she said.
Morigeau said she places students wherever they feel most comfortable.
Sophomore Jane Mumm said she is more of an organizer than a talker, so she would rather be behind the desk.
Senior Sujey Munoz said talking with the residents is the best part of the program.
“It is so cool to be here,” she said. “I will come back as long as I can.”
However, after becoming attached to residents, it can be hard to deal with their death, Gibson said.
Munoz said it is sad to come in and find out someone has passed away.
“They really get attached to all of the residents,” Gibson said. And the residents get attached to them.