BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Hillside Intermediate School is celebrating 10 school years since it became an official Roots & Shoots School.

Hillside became part of the program 18 years ago with clubs dedicated to the cause, and was named an official Roots & Shoots school in 2004 when Jane Goodall visited the school to cut the ribbon and officially launch the program.

Roots & Shoots is about respect and compassion for all living things, understanding diverse cultures and beliefs and inspiring students to make the community a better place. It embraces an appreciation for humans, plants and animals.

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“It is really hard to put into words how rewarding and meaningful it has been to be part of this process from the beginning,” said Katrina Macht, teacher at Hillside Intermediate who runs the Roots & Shoots program. “We have integrated the program into the curriculum, and it is part of the fabric of our identity.”

Students spent months prepareing for Forest Fest, being held June 6 as part of the celebration of the 10th anniversary.

“I like how the school is involved with the environment and making a difference as a community,” said sixth grader Jackie Ruhnke, who helped put together  a slide show of previous Forest Fest photos.

She and her partner, sixth grader Sarah Pieper, said they liked the community involvement in making a clean yard at the school and learning how to help the environment and save energy.

“In Forest Fest, we can go to the wetlands and capture frogs, and not every school has that,” said sixth grader Sofia Pedro.

To prepare for the celebration, students created skits to encourage people to attend Forest Fest, wrote letters to dignitaries asking them to attend and designed fliers to advertise the event.

“I have two brothers who went to Hillside, and I saw them have fun with the program,” said sixth grader Michael Pastor. “I like the environment, and it is fun to take care of it. I live next to the woods, and I want to keep the land safe.”

“I feel this is a good thing because I get to learn to interact with others and the environment,” sixth grader Shreyan Das added.

Macht said she believes the program makes learning more meaningful for students.

“It is a vehicle that can make contributions to the world, and tap into students’ interests,” she said.

The program includes Students Raising Students to raise money for students in other countries to help them get an education.

In addition, during science classes, students take part in Adopt-a-Spot, where they pick a tree area outside the school to study all year, learning how it pollinates and how it grows. At the end of the year, they make recommendations to future students about how to care for the individual trees.

“It is not like other science classes because we get to go outside and observe trees and see how they change,” said sixth grader Jacob Pearlman.