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Rather than rushing through shortened lessons during a student half-day, Kilmer Middle School decided to dedicate Wednesday to community service efforts around Vienna.

“Everyone is doing a different thing today for service,” said eighth-grader Nicole Fitzpatrick, 13. “You get to sign up for the activity [you want].”

“We are making chocolate chip cookies. It’s going to the [Dunn Loring Fire Station] fire department and the YWCA [Children’s Center in Vienna],” said eighth-grader Abby Gay, 13.

“We’re making them [cookies] to celebrate their services to the community,” said fellow eighth-grader Nadia Hamad, 14.

Kilmer seventh- and eighth-graders could choose from about 50 different service opportunities availble Wednesday including neighborhood and stormwater clean-ups, working with younger students at nearby elementary schools, musical performances at local nursing and rehabilitation centers for the elderly and volunteer work at homeless shelters and care centers.

School buses were used to transport students from the school to volunteer sites.

Kilmer’s Day of Service is the first schoolwide volunteering effort at the middle school.

“Usually, we would be having short classes, but we’re not today,” eighth-grader Alexis Bennett, 13, said, adding that she enjoyed the baking alternative to regular classes.

Seventh-grader Lewis Horne, 12, said the cookies will serve as a small, “Thank you for saving our lives and risking your life for others.”

Fellow seventh-grader Alex Schmid, 12, said, “They work hard for the community to help others and keep us safe, so we wanted to thank them.”

Kilmer Middle School enrolls more than 1,100 seventh- and eighth-grade students. While all Fairfax County Public School eighth-graders are required to complete 15 hours of service as part of their educational attainment, Kilmer is among those schools requiring all students complete service projects.

“All of our kids have to do community service as part of their civics and government [classes],” science teacher Susan Bates said. “Some of the kids, their parents are working three jobs, and they don’t have the time to go out and get involved.”

Bates said the in-school day of service was an opportunity for students to complete those needed service hours.

“It’s about getting outside their own box and helping the community,” Kilmer Assistant Principal Debra Davis said. “A lot of the kids, not all of them, but a lot of them have a good life. This lets them see that. ... When I talked to the kids this week, they were really excited about [service day].”

FCPS Service Learning Resource Teacher Laura Wells helped coordinate matching students efforts with different community programs such as the Dunn Loring Fire Station.

“They were thrilled,” she said. “These are still young kids, so they are getting to see volunteering experiences. ... That was one of the exciting things for me in the planning. The school was willing to go off-campus [allowing students to volunteer outside of the classroom].” She said the students’ age and lack of drivers’ licenses often limits their ability to find or participate in volunteer programs such as those at the animal shelter.

“It’s important for them to realize the ‘Y’ is just across the street,” she said of community needs.

The cookie baking service opportunity was among the most popular of community service projects, followed by visiting elementary schools.

Family and Consumer Science teacher Jan Packnett, who oversaw Wednesday’s cookie bake, said, “I told [students] within your school you are a part of Kilmer, so what can you do today [for this community]? They started really realizing that they can make a difference, and that’s really what the day is about.”

hhobbs@fairfaxtimes.com