‘Heroes’ teach the joy of making a difference

“The Heroes” class at Carmel Valley Middle School taught students that being a hero isn’t reserved for caped crusaders — it’s something even seventh- and eighth-graders could be.

Students in the inaugural Heroes course left the class motivated to be good role models, speak up for issues that matter to them, and to give back to their communities.

“I love this class, and I know anyone who enrolls in it will, too,” said student Kailey Hoffman, noting that she learned to be more “conscious of her atmosphere” and will take away lessons she can share with her younger sister.

“It was such a fun year,” Omar Rodriguez said. “I’m glad I was chosen for it.”

Students had to apply to be a part of the Heroes class, which was billed as mostly a leadership and service class. In its first year at the school, teacher Jaime Swope said the students were “the best group of guinea pigs you could ever ask for.” They were honest, full of ideas, and not even she could’ve predicted that they would end the year so inspired.

“It has shown them that they really can make a difference,” Swope said.

At a year-end award ceremony on June 11, the Heroes class members read poems and essays about their experience. Two groups even sang songs — one a spin on a Justin Bieber tune, another changing the words of an All-American Rejects song from “Give you hell” to “Give you help.”

“A hero is not just a person, a hero is what a person is,” Jose DiSilva read. “We’re all heroes.”

Seventh-grader Cole LaPolla picked the class having already had service experience with Kids Korps.

“I just wanted to help my community and my school,” Cole said.

They helped plan Earth Week and Red Ribbon Week activities at school.

On Fridays, the students visited Carmel Del Mar to participate in Friday Night Live with fourth- through sixth-graders. The Heroes led the children through activities to educate them about problem solving, bullying and issues they may encounter when they reach middle school and high school.

“We taught them how to stay drug- and alcohol-free and be above the influence,” Cole said.

Swope said the students didn’t always just follow assignments, they came up with their own ideas. One student’s idea to help children with cancer led to the entire class making activity bags for children in the hospital over the holidays.

In February, the students canvassed stores at UTC mall to find products that encourage drinking, smoking and drug use to minors. They then sent letters to the store owners to ask them to reconsider selling items such as sandals with hidden flasks for alcohol, chocolate cigars or T-shirts that read “Everybody loves a drunk girl.”

The students also volunteered at Kawasaki Disease Fun Day at UCSD and visited elderly patients at a nursing home in Encinitas.

“We really got to know them and connect with them,” said eighth-grader Jennifer Fisher — she even found one resident with whom she spoke Yiddish. “It got me all teared up to think about their lives and what they had been through.”

Jennifer said she didn’t know what to expect when she started the Heroes class. She wasn’t sure if it was a right fit for her because she said she was very shy and her interests were mainly in sports.

But Jennifer said the class gave her a boost of confidence and now she aims to take charge, find ways to make a difference and be a leader. She is looking forward to running for an Associated Student Body position at Canyon Crest Academy next year.

“It’s been a great opportunity to see them grow as people,” Swope said.


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