By Leigh Prom
Earlier in the school year, students attending New Tech at Gereau, the project-based learning academy at The Gereau Center for Applied Technology and Career Exploration, were asked to think about their own definition of “hero” and whether there was anyone in their family or neighborhood who was worthy of that title.
After several weeks of planning and preparation, the eighth-graders hosted a brunch Nov. 20 for veterans and first responders to show their appreciation for helping others.
Nearly three dozen guests attended, representing agencies, including Virginia State Police, Roanoke Fire-EMS, as well as fire and rescue departments from Rocky Mount, Boones Mill, Callaway, Cool Branch, Ferrum, Fork Mountain, Glade Hill, Red Valley and Scruggs.
To prepare for the brunch, the students drafted email invitations to first responders and other community heroes and solicited food and beverage donations from McDonald’s in Rocky Mount and Dunkin Donuts in Roanoke.
They also worked on other aspects of the event, such as setting and cleaning up, planning the decorations and menu, creating an event agenda and writing thank-you cards to the guests. In addition, New Tech student Evan Webb and members of the audio/visual club directed and produced a video featuring students’ messages of appreciation to the guests.
Several members of Webb’s family attended the Nov. 20 brunch, including father Mike, a volunteer with Callaway for 32 years, his aunt Dot, a 21-year veteran of the department, and her husband, James, who has been with the department for 52 years, with 35 of those years as chief. The Webb family said they serve because they love to help people and give back to their community.
When asked if they’d recommend volunteer firefighting to young people, James Webb said, “Absolutely! We need all the young people we can get.”
The students’ efforts were applauded by many attending the event, including facilitator and teacher Stephanie Cook and Gereau Center Principal Leanne Worley.
“If you want to see what students are really capable of, give them a project with real-world implications,” Cook said. “The students felt like their work really meant something, and they poured themselves into honoring our local heroes.”
Worley added, “It is so nice to know when an opportunity arose to recognize heroes, our students chose veterans and local first responders. This says so much about our students, their families and our community for New Tech at Gereau students to want to recognize those who have given so selflessly to all of us.”
As student Evan Stafford interviewed the guests, he was complimented by Ron Gearheart, a paramedic and firefighter with Franklin County Public Safety and father of New Tech student Leah Gearheart.
“I’m very proud of everything I saw you do and hope that you continue the good work,” Gearheart said to Stafford.
When asked what she learned from the project, student Raven Smith said, “Teamwork is crucial.”
Eighth-grader Jonathan Woody added, “First responders are a crucial part of our life.”