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In February, students in the district’s Community Education Extended Learning (CEEL) program, a before and after school program for elementary students, assembled 177 Birthday Bags to donate to the State College Food Bank. The students put a personal touch on each bag with pictures, stickers, and birthday wishes. Families donated cake mix, frosting, sprinkles, and candles, for a total of nearly 450 pounds of food. Shannon Messick, SCASD Community Education Coordinator, said, "The students had fun decorating and filling the bags, but more importantly, were able to do something that directly benefits our community, perhaps even some of their neighbors or classmates."

Since its induction, CEEL has offered classes in the arts, language, culture, physical activity, and Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM). Now, supervisors are incorporating more social-emotional learning. "Part of that is helping our students learn how to show empathy toward others while strengthening their connection to the community," said Messick. While other educational opportunities allow students to showcase individual talents, she added, "With service projects, every one of our students succeeds."

Social responsibility became a part of CEEL curriculum last year. Students knitted hats for newborns at the hospital and sponsored at tree at United Way's Festival of Trees. Having almost doubled in size over the past year, CEEL upped its sponsorship to two trees this past holiday season. At each CEEL site, students incorporated the knowledge they had gained throughout the fall in decorations for the trees, and according to Messick, "puppets and Lego creations topped the list." She added, "We were afraid one tree might topple under the weight of so many ornaments!" Also last fall, Gray’s Woods students made small stuffed turkeys for Park Forest Preschool children and feral cat enclosures for PAWS.

"A child's self-esteem grows as he learns how much of an impact one person can have," Messick said. "He feels both more empowered and appreciative." In the future, CEEL supervisors will lead students in making wreaths for residents of retirements and nursing and rehabilitation centers, no-sew blankets and stuffed critters for police and fire departments, and holiday cards for our troops overseas. Messick encourages local organizations whose upcoming projects need support to contact her and enlist the eager helping hands at CEEL: "We've got staff and students who are ready to roll on the next project!" She can be reached via email at [email protected].

The Community Education Extended Learning (CEEL) program, a before and after school program for elementary students, strives to meet the needs of working parents and provide extra learning opportunities in a relaxed, nurturing environment. Activities are designed to cultivate creativity, encourage diversity, and promote a healthy lifestyle. The dedicated CEEL staff, partnered with local education program providers, works to connect activities to the school day and maintain active relationships with students and families.

CEEL supervisors Suzanne Dannenmueller (Easterly Parkway Elementary School), Patty McKenna (Radio Park Elementary School), Lindsey Younkins (Ferguson Township Elementary School), Heidi Lauckhardt-Rhoades (Mount Nittany Elementary School), Lisa Vonada (Park Forest Elementary School), and Lisa Cocolin (Grays Woods Elementary School) dropped off 177 birthday bags weighing nearly 450 pounds to the State College Food Bank on Wednesday, February 24. Students at various CEEL sites collected goods and decorated bags to create special birthday gifts for those in need.