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As the school year ended, some of the best lessons for fifth graders didn’t come from a textbook-but rather from finding happiness in helping others.

Through a project funded by the Bettendorf Rotary, five Pleasant Valley School District schools adopted a project to “Pay it Forward”.

Each fifth grade class in the district received $250 from the Rotary to plan and execute their project.

Pleasant Valley Elementary fifth graders invited the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association to talk about their experiences. The students decided to host a breakfast for their members, and the American Legion Buffalo Bill post, along with their own families. Students planned food, invitations, decorations and hosted the event, with more than 90 people in attendance.

“This project has taught our students to truly think about others and how to serve others. They have learned powerful lessons about giving back. They were able to make a positive impact on so many of our military families. Students learned the importance of recognizing and appreciating others for their service. Our students were able to see the joy they brought to those who have and are serving,” said Pleasant Valley fifth grade teacher Laura Wilga.

Hopewell Elementary students visited The Fountains Senior Living Center throughout the year, coloring, playing games, singing songs, and interviewing residents.

“They were so excited to go to The Fountains each time and interact with the residents. In their reflections, all of them talked about how happy it made their hearts to know that such a small act on their part made such a huge difference to those residents,” said 5th grade teacher Katie Rokusek. “I think often in school we focus on standards or lessons that are important for kids to learn – but this project really gave all of us a reality check to the fact that there is nothing more important than raising kids who know the impact they can make on our community simply by volunteering their time to make someone else’s day a little bit better."

“When students are concentrating on how they can give to others rather than what they are getting in the form of activities or treats, they are able to learn that kindness matters and can make a difference in someone’s day,” said 5th grade Hopewell teacher Christy Cline.

Other projects included:

  • Bridgeview Elementary: Students interacted with citizens at the Presbyterian Church in LeClaire once a month, and participated in a Halloween costume walk, sharing flag essays, and crafts.
  • Cody Elementary- Students packed more than 5,600 meals for those in need through Kids Against Hunger.
  • Riverdale Heights: Worked with Maddie’s Closet, and donated 50 toiletry bags with socks, underwear, and winter coats, and included inspirational messages in the bags.

Tim Lane, pPresident of the Bettendorf Rotary Club, hopes to expand the project to include all schools in the Pleasant Valley and Bettendorf school districts, as well as Morningstar, Lourdes, and Rivermont Collegiate.

“I love the concept of ‘Pay it Forward’. What a better way to teach young people about it than service-based learning,” he said.

These projects are patterned after “Project Jack”, which Lane says began to leave a legacy in honor of the son of Matt and Tracy Lindaman. Lane says when their son passed away, they gave his classmates money to do a “Pay it Forward” project. The Iowa Board of Realtors Foundation took that project statewide to 136 schools across the state.

The local work steps outside of the lines of “Project Jack”, but is in the same spirit of giving.

Lane adds that projects like these make the community a better place.