NEW LONDON -- About 420 New London-Spicer middle school students carried rakes, trowels and good spirits Friday as they began their annual community service day.
The fifth- through eighth-grade students were scattered throughout the county all morning doing a variety of dirty tasks as well as fun activities that allowed the students to engage with people in the community.
"It's a great way for the students to give back to the community that is supportive of our schools and students," said NLS Superintendent Paul Carlson, adding that community service day has been a long tradition at NLS that was started before he began working in the district 16 years ago.
"It's a great opportunity for kids to think of ways in which they can help in our community," he said.
Many of the students chose to do outdoor activities, including picking up trash and sticks at Neer Park in New London, County Park 7 by Games Lake, the city and county parks in Spicer, Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center and along the recreational trail that goes through New London and Spicer.
Laura Molenaar's fifth-grade class spent several hours cleaning, planting and mulching in the restored prairie and wetland in the school's nature area. The task of cleaning out the wood duck houses was quickly snatched up by several boys who wrangled their way into adult-sized hip boots and waders so that they could slog out into the small pond to do their job.
Some students did tasks on the school grounds, including helping the cooks do inventory of their stock.
Deidra Hiltner's fifth-grade class took a third-grade class under their wings, serving as mentors, in activities the older kids organized including crafts, putting on a play and playing "Are you smarter than a fifth-grader?"
Several classes came to Willmar for their jobs. One class volunteered their time at the Hawk Creek Animal Shelter and another was at the Kandiyohi County Historical Society.
Several classes did fundraisers, including one group that did a car wash in Spicer.
Students came up with the ideas for the projects. "It's all student-driven," said Middle School Principal Trish Perry. "There's 100 percent participation. There are no kids that don't want to do it."
She said the community service day teaches students life skills and helps them "take pride in their community."
The response from the community to the kids' efforts has always been positive, said Perry. "They can't say enough great things about what the kids have done."