M.A.G.I.C. Makes Its Mark
School Club Founder Received A Hero Award
(from South Windsor, CT Life newspaper – February, 2002)
Hundreds of acts of kindness, small and medium, have brightened the lives of many people in the South Windsor area and taught scores of students at Timothy Edwards Middle School the meaning of community service.
For the past five years, most such student service has been through the M.A.G.I.C. Club, (Making America Great Involves Commitment,) set up by social studies teacher Anthony Odierna as a way to bring to life lessons learned in history and social studies classes.
“We want the students not just to study about American life in textbooks but also to live it. We’ve always said the essence of democracy is citizen involvement,” Mr. Odierna said. He said he chose the name M.A.G.I.C. because he wanted an acronym that could be remembered easily and means something. “I believe that community service creates a kind of magical feeling,” he explained.
The efforts by club members include volunteering at soup kitchens and nursing homes, visiting senior citizens, collecting toys for shelters and orphanages or snow gear so poor children can play outside, tutoring younger students in area schools and working with children in day care facilities. The range and scope of the community service seems limited only by the enthusiasm of the mostly eighth graders who pick a project that interests them and also is something they are capable of doing.
“They have it in their heart to help,” Mr. Odierna said of the 1200 6th to 8th graders at Timothy Edwards Middle School where he has taught for the past 26 years.
“It’s a matter of reaching that heart and convincing them they need to get out there and overcome obstacles. A lot of these kids look at life in terms of fun; they only like to do things that are fun, Well, I tell them look beyond that and do something for somebody else.”
After they become involved, Mr. Odierna said, “They all like it, and they write (in reports) ‘This was such fun! I couldn’t wait to go there the next time and experience the look I saw on the people’s faces when I helped them or the feeling I got.’ If only kids knew that feeling to begin with, but they’ve got to do it first to get that feeling.”
What Mr. Odierna calls “a major international aspect” of the M.A.G.I.C. program for the past 4 years has been bringing to South Windsor 8 to 10 students and two of their teachers from Secondary School #37 in the city of Samarkand, Uzbekistan in Central Asia.
The students stay for the month of April with families of T.E. students in town. M.A.G.I.C. club members and local business and individuals help raise the $12,000 cost of the visitation.
“We integrate them fully into American life. We learn about their culture and they learn about ours and we provide them with marvelous experiences: they go to the state capitol, go shopping, see sports games, and go to New York and Boston. It shows our kids how the M.A.G.I.C. Club reaches around the world,” Mr. Odierna said. “As these foreigners and now friends return to their land, I am certain that our international friendships have advanced.”
An on-going project for several M.A.G.I.C. volunteers the past few years has been the collection of thousands and thousands of pop tabs from the tops of aluminum cans that are redeemed in August as part of a national campaign at the Ronald McDonald House in New Haven.
Each tab is valued at five cents by the charity and the funds raised are used by the non-profit house to help pay for hosting families while a child family member is being treated for a serious illness at an area hospital.
The tabs were chosen, according to Ronald McDonald House Charities, because they “are smaller and leaner than other tabs enabling the Ronald McDonald House to handle the large volume they receive.”
Mr. Odierna said that in 2001, the Students collected $5000 worth of tabs, a goal which current eighth graders David Rounce and Mehgan Peterson are working to match this school year. David and Meghan often are seen carrying plastic bags full of tabs collected from fellow students.
Some projects have a serious theme, such as observance of violence awareness week by T.E. student government in 2001.
Then 8th grader Rebecca Grodofsky, who was in charge, reported on what she did:
“To prepare for the week, we needed posters and blue ribbons for everyone to wear to show support for the program. In addition, we needed to tape hate crime stories every morning on the TE Morning News. We mainly targeted racial prejudice as well as prejudice connected with sexual orientation, religion and origin. We also focused on bullying just because someone seems to be different, which is a big problem in schools today.
“Violence Awareness week was a big success,” Rebecca continued. We made students more aware of hate crimes and hopefully changed some of their attitudes toward people who are usually targets.”
Students who want to participate in the program complete a brief description of their project, why it was chosen and whom it will benefit.
“They talk with their parents, they get ideas from teachers,” Mr. Odierna said. “They talk to their teacher or come and see me. I talk to them to make sure it is doable,” keeping in mind that these are 6th, 7th and 8th graders.
Once the plan has been approved, students, with parental approval, sign a contract specifying the extent of their future service.
During the project, students are encouraged to write a weekly reflection on their participation and discuss with their social studies teacher any concerns they might have. On completion, students are asked to submit explanations and verification of their contributions on forms signed by their parents and any other supervising adults. They also fill out an evaluation of what their project accomplished, what was their biggest challenge, what the project taught them that they could not have learned in any other way and how the project has changed how they think about themselves, other students and the community.
“Doing is wonderful, that is the biggest part, but we also want them to reflect on it,” as part of their school learning process, said Mr. Odierna. Then the students are awarded their M.A.G.I.C. Club Card and a certificate for dedication and formally inducted into the club.
The reports make interesting reading.
A former T.E. student, Laura Beaver, reported on helping Orchard Hill Elementary School first graders and in the process showed the kind of simple tasks that much of the community service involves.
“Math problems are difficult for many children, but I helped them get a better understanding of how to count by holding up their fingers and teaching them little secrets on how to remember what an answer might be. I also really enjoyed helping them with telling time. I would move the hour hand on a cardboard clock and ask them to tell me the time. Once I got to know the kids better, I would challenge more of the advanced kids with harder times.”
“As I got to know these special children better, they got to know me. When I came to school, I would hear little voices saying, ‘There are the big kids again.’ I was a large influence on them.”
Some of the projects involve more than just a few hours of effort. For instance, last year then eighth grader Bryan Holmes reported on his service as a docent or informed guide at the privately run Wood Memorial Library. Bryan said he became a docent while he was in fifth grade, signing up after he took a hike in the meadows off South Windsor’s Main Street sponsored by the library. He had to spend many hours learning about the history of the town, including that of the Podunk Indians who had lived in the area along the Connecticut River in the 1600’s. As Bryan reported:
Children as well as adults benefit from my service because they get a chance to learn about the history of South Windsor. In addition to a lecture, there is much more to our presentation. We also teach them games, explain customs and show them artifacts and dioramas. So this is a hands on experience as well and makes it more fun for the participants. Even I have benefited from this program, because I, too, have learned about the town where I live. Did you know that Ulysses S. Grant owned a yellow house on Main Street?”
On rare occasions, a project can offer more excitement than expected.
A few years ago, Liz Accorsi was snow blowing a neighbor’s driveway when the neighbor let her dog outdoors. Liz recounted the result:
“Guess what.” He started to attack me. First, he bit my leg, but not hard, then he jumped on me and scratched my back. Do you believe it?
“As I was trying to get him off me, I let go of the snowblower. It was moving down the driveway by itself. With the dog at my heels, I ran down the driveway, caught up with the blower, and shut it off. Finally, I put the dog in the house. After I finished the driveway, I went home and fell asleep. I am tired just writing about this project.”
In November, Mr. Odierna was recognized as one of the “Heroes of Greater Hartford” for the community impact of his project by the Greater Hartford Chapter of the American Red Cross and the Northeast Utilities Foundation.
With Mr. Odierna planning to retire in a few years, the future of M.A.G.I.C. “all depends upon the teachers, especially in the social studies department, emphasizing the message that students need to do more than just be successful in the classroom.”
He said that some teacher needs to pick up the ball and volunteer the time and effort to publicize the M.A.G.I.C. Club and coordinate the needs of community groups and individuals with the energy and idealism of the youth. For now, anyone needing help should contact Mr. Odierna at Timothy Edwards Middle School at 648-5030.
“Contact us, and we’ll see if we can get you the manpower you need,” Mr. Odierna said.
A good summation of what M.A.G.I.C. is and means in the lives of the volunteers can be seen in a “Declaration of Community Service” based on the 1776 Declaration of Independence and written on parchment by students of the class of 2000.
It is on display at the school. It reads:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal; that they should be endowed by their conscience with certain principles; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of community service. We, the undersigned, vow to commit ourselves to serving our nation with pride, sacrifice and devotion. We declare that in our journey through life, we shall dedicate ourselves to helping others. By doing so, we hope to unite our country under the ideal that community service is a necessity to perform. We shall rise above prejudice, discrimination and living for ourselves in order to assist others in their time of need. As we sign this declaration, we affirm to ourselves and each other that we shall always be involved in making community service a top priority for our great land.”