Students in Oak Mountain High School’s Business Leadership class have spent the entire year helping to mentor younger students at Oak Mountain Elementary School. But, as the school year closed they wanted to make an even bigger impact. The result of that desire was a full day of helping turn various projects into a reality through Impact Day 2019.
The Impact Day projects included installing a rock garden, helping plant raised bed gardens, assembling and painting a new bench for an outdoor courtyard, building and painting an outdoor lending library, painting stepping stones for the PreK student courtyard, painting three sets of corn hole boards for outdoor play areas, and helping to load canned food that had been donated to Oak Mountain Missions.
The student mentors had been working all year to help third-grade students paint their legacy rocks, which were used in the rock garden. When those third-grade students return to Oak Mountain Elementary their senior year of high school for their graduation walk, those same rocks will be in the garden for them to find as a lasting reminder of the legacy they are leaving behind.
“Our third-graders are our seniors,” said Principal Debbie Horton. “We wanted them to leave their legacy behind and one day when they come back they will be able to walk past here and see their rock they painted.”
Horton said Impact Day and the collaborative projects the students worked on will meet more than beautification of courtyard areas or other needs in the community. They will also meet the academic and social needs of her students, especially those that might need a little something extra to help them get through the day.
“We have students who come to us having experienced trauma, but at their age, they can’t find the language skills to tell us what the problem is,” Horton explained. “Oftentimes, they need to be reset. They need to know that there are enough adults in this building to love them, enough food to meet all of their needs. Learning can’t happen until those needs are met.”
Playing a game of corn hole with a trusted adult, helping to water and tend to the plants in the raised garden beds, checking and straightening the donated books in the outdoor lending library will provide the outlet that some of these students need to help calm their brains and reset their attitude toward learning, Horton explained. She also hopes that the areas will help to reinforce developmentally appropriate play and learning activities, which will be a focus for next year – especially with kindergarten. students.
Hayden Belisle, the school counselor at Oak Mountain Elementary, said it was important to them for their younger students to actively engage and participate in the projects with the high school mentors. She worked tirelessly for the past several weeks to organize Impact Day in order for both sets of students to have the opportunity to work collaboratively.
“The idea was for our students to have a hand in these projects in order for them to take ownership,” said Belisle. “When they work on it themselves that are so proud of it. They are more inclined to help take care of our school and to see that what they do really does matter, that it really does make an impact.”
For Oak Mountain High School teacher John Milton, he wants his students to continue to grow as leaders and mentors which is what makes projects like Impact Day so valuable to them also.
Milton and Horton had been talking for the past several years on how to end the year with some type of project for the mentors to really have an impact. After several years of discussion, it finally morphed into Impact Day with Milton helping to secure funding for the materials and supplies through legislative grants from Senator Jabo Waggoner and Representative Arnold Mooney. Brent Fielder, owner of the Greystone location of Chick-Fil-A also supplied lunch for the high school mentors and shared his own leadership advice with the group.
“Don’t miss the opportunity to have those one-on-one interactions with others like you are having today with these students,” Fielder challenged the students. “Be a good steward with the influence you have. We all get 24 hours in a day. What are you going to do with it?”
OMHS Senior Hudson Tate, who along with a couple of other students helped to spearhead the design and building of the outdoor lending library, said it has been a very rewarding opportunity.
“It has been awesome to spend time with the kids today,” Tate said. “It has just been really cool to see how this project has all come together.”
Clara Fuller, also a senior, said the best thing for her about Impact Day was seeing how excited the younger students were to spend time with them.
“The kids were so excited, so that made it super fun for us too,” she said. “I know when I was in third grade I would have loved this.
Belisle smiled fondly as she remembered Fuller as a little girl walking those same halls. She beamed with pride at the leader she has become today.
“I remember so many of them from when they were here,” Belisle said. “To see them now, how they are now leading our kids, I am just so proud. I love seeing how our kids look up to them.”
She noted that Fuller had been particularly encouraging to a student who has been struggling with behavior issues all year as they were painting the corn hole sets.
“She kept telling him that he was the best painter,” Belisle said. “His face just lit up like a Christmas tree. She knows nothing about the issues he has had this year, so it was just so neat to see how she interacted with him and what an impact it had on him”
Horton shared her appreciation with the high school students during lunch, in which she stressed how important it has been for her students to see the older ones as leaders they can emulate.
“Our vision is to grow leaders so that when they grow up they will know that they can do anything,” Horton told the high school students. “Most importantly we want them to grow up to be servant leaders like you are being today.”
Horton praised the high school students on being respectful and being great role-models.
“The conversations I have witnessed today have been heartwarming,” she said. “This means a tremendous amount to me. I love you all, I want you to know that you will always have a home here. We are all family…bluebirds and eagles forever.”