BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Columbia Middle School is offering a new elective for students in grades 7 and 8.

CMS Outreach is an elective offered through the English Department that involves group-run service projects where the students research areas of need within the school, town, and broader community and then design and implement a service project of their choosing to meet that need. They then reflect on their work at the end of the course and report back on their accomplishments. This semester there are four groups of students in the class, each with their own community service plan in the works. 

It is well documented that student involvement in their communities - at school, in their towns, as citizens of their state and nation - is both a valuable and motivating opportunity and provides a means for students to apply their academic knowledge, social skills, and other skills and talents to real-world issues which impact their local environment.

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According to the CMS course description, “Outreach programs enable students to learn about civic engagements, establish and foster important relationships, and contribute meaningfully to their community. By learning about service and designing and engaging in such activities, the students of Columbia Middle School get an early start on lifelong service and commitment to civic responsibility.” 

Belinda Healey, CMS English and the Outreach Class Teacher said, "As a teacher at CMS, I have long awaited the opportunity to start a service club. When there was a call for new electives, I was intrigued by the idea of combining outreach with academics in a service-learning course. Of course, many things are more challenging in pandemic-ridden times, but our first ever CMS Outreach class is working hard to meet their goals in spite of the hurdles. They are enthusiastic about their projects, and they are motivated to make a difference in various areas of the greater community. I am so proud of their commitment and their inspiring kindness."

The students are hoping to garner community interest and support for their projects, which are as follows:

Feeding the Frontlines Group - this group is hosting a "snack drive" where they are collecting snacks and treats for the night shift healthcare workers at Overlook Hospital in the COVID Unit. They are having sandwiches donated from Millburn Deli as well. At school, they are collecting pre-packaged snacks to create meal bags for the workers as a special treat. With your help, they hope to collect prepackaged foods like canned foods, granola bars, etc. to donate. 

Helping the Hungry Group - this group is hosting a food drive to collect non-perishables for donation to the Community Food Bank of Hillside. Due to the pandemic, hunger is increasing by 56% throughout the state of New Jersey. The group’s goal is to collect as much food as they can to help the Hillside Community Food Bank donate to the hungry. You can help by sending your middle schooler in with a donation OR by stopping by the Columbia Middle School front door vestibule to drop off your goods. There are collection bins at school, and they are also working with the local Stop and Shop who has offered to make a generous donation of goods. 

Treats for Animals at St. Hubert's Group - Pet food is currently one of St. Hubert’s Animal Shelter’s most urgent needs, so this group is collecting mason jars and will use their own ingredients to make homemade treats to donate to St. Hubert’s Animal Shelter. They are thrilled to bring joy to the cats and dogs who have been rescued by this shelter, and they are looking for packaging supplies for their project. Please help them by sending in your clean and empty mason jars to CMS.

Cherished Creations Group this group is hosting a fundraiser at the New Providence Chipotle from 5-9pm on Wed, March 10th to raise money for the local Cherished Creations foundation. Cherished Creations is a local charity that helps grant sick children’s wishes. All the proceeds will go directly to a sick child’s wish. They plan to earn enough to grant a wish for a sick child connected to the charity. Visit the Berkeley Heights Public School District Facebook page for more details. 

The mission of CMS Outreach is to engage students in meaningful community activism and service which will build and strengthen literacy, communication skills, and self-reflection - ultimately preparing them to be responsible, self-motivated citizens of the twenty-first century. The goals include connecting community service to the district’s academic curriculum where students will collaborate with the community and research real-world local issues; design a service program that meets the interests of the student group and benefits the greater community; encourage fellow students to participate in civic engagements; reflect upon a shared experience and develop a presentation on the outcome of their service.  

For specific information on how you can support each of the individual service projects see above photo gallery. If you have additional questions about this class or making a donation to any of the projects, please contact Belinda Healey at bhealey@bhpsnj.org.