More than 70 Independence School District middle school students spent a couple hours helping the hungry this week.

While they enjoyed being able to give back to the community, they also got some life lessons.

The students – 41 from Bingham Middle School and 31 from Pioneer Ridge Middle School – volunteered at the Harvesters Community Food Network Wednesday in Kansas City. Most of the Bingham students spent the morning putting together sacks of onions, while the Pioneer Ridge students and a few from Bingham worked an assembly line that packed boxes of canned and non-perishable goods for senior citizens.

"It's fun, and it's serving your community," said Jordan Tyra, a Bingham seventh grader who worked with his twin brother Jaden putting together the boxes for the assembly line. "It makes me feel happy that it's helping others, and we're not just doing it for nothing. It's actually getting people who need it the help they need."

Helping out was also part of the Independence School District's AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program that was implemented on the middle school campus starting in August 2018.

Instead of being told what to do exactly, they were given a goal and teachers let them work out how it would be done.

"Several of the things that AVID focuses on are collaboration and organization, so ... these kids are all working together have kind of come up with their own system," said Bingham teacher and AVID coordinator Cindy Stephens. "... So they get that organization, that collaboration, and it's in a real world setting. Oftentimes students ask, 'How does this relate to me? When am I ever going to use this?' Well, this is a real world setting where you're using some of the pillars of AVID."

The Bingham students working on onions devised what each student would do and how it would be done.

"They've figured this all out on their own," Stephens said. "We didn't tell them anything other than here are the bags, fill them, tie them, put them in. They decided how best to make that work. So that critical thinking helps, thinking on their own and not being told exactly how to do things. That's what these kids want – they want choices, they want to be able to figure some things out on their own – and this is a great setting for them to be able to do that."

Stephens said all of the students were willing participants and shared laughter and camaraderie while working. They also got a sense of accomplishment and were happy to be able to contribute.

"I feel proud of myself because I've always wanted to do this," said Makayla Harold, a Pioneer Ridge seventh grader who helped fill boxes with canned goods. "It's been about five years that I've wanted to do this. Just wanted to help out, to help people get what they need and want."

What Jordan Tyra liked best was being able to experience it in real life and not just read about it.

"Getting to actually do it, like being hands on and not just learning about it – coming here and actually getting to help," he said. "You can see how much help we are to (the community)."

And that is encouraging for Stephens.

"It's great to see kids who are willing to do something for others. A lot of times we get nothing but bad press about teenagers – that they're selfish and all they're doing is playing video games – but these kids are out here making a difference. One of the things they told us this morning that was without the volunteers that Harvesters would have to have 90 more full-time employees than they do.

"... We do a lot of collaboration in our classroom, and they know that they'll use that in college and the workforce later, but putting it in a right now relevancy, that makes it much more meaningful to the kids."