Iowa Students Earn Physical Education Credit For Helping Disabled And Senior Neighbors

Students provide help with chores including cutting grass, raking leaves, pulling weeds and cleaning gutters.

Marty Griffin and Wendy Bell
June 17, 2019 - 1:54 pm

iStock / Getty Images Plus / #680166294


PITTSBURGH (Newsradio 1020 KDKA) - Days of dodgeball and running laps are over for students at an alternative school in Iowa.

Instead, students at the Alternative Learning School in Dubuque can earn physical education credit during the last two weeks of the school year by attending to the needs of the elderly and the disabled through lawn work.

Tim Hitzler, the teacher at the school who started the program, told KDKA Radio’s Marty Griffin and Wendy Bell on Monday afternoon that the idea came to him around five years ago when the school started a garden.

“We thought it would be a good thing for the kids to get out and do some yard work,” Hitzler said. “Then we decided to reach out to the community to see if we could find people who were eldery or disabled to see if they needed work. We had an overwhelming number of people that needed help so we have been doing it ever since.”

Students at the school have other options for getting physical education credits, including canoeing, biking, hiking and kickball. However, the school put in a requirement two years ago that requires students to do at least one day doing service work.

Hitzler told Marty and Wendy that he finds most of the individuals who need help through Facebook posts and flyering at local churches. The first year of logistics were a “headache,” Hitzler admitted, but the key is being organized.  “Basically I have a spreadsheet and I put the address and what work they need done so I know what to bring. Sometimes we need to bring a lawn mower, sometimes we need a wheelbarrow. It just depends. Typically I’ll go to the house before I bring the students so I know what we are in for and what we can expect.”

Many individuals who receive help from the students tell Hitzler they are very grateful. “People are amazed that it’s free, they think there should be some charge attached to it.”

At one woman’s house, students stained a deck and cut her grass. “She also had a bunch of stuff in her basement that needed gone. We sorta go above and beyond I guess,” Hitzler said.  “I bring my truck and if they have stuff they need hauled to the dump we do that. A lot of times they have yard waste so we get rid of that for them as well.”

Hitzler told Marty and Wendy that around 90% of the students enjoy the work and participate more than three times.  “What motivates them more is when they meet the person and see why we are helping them,” Htizler said. “Once they meet them and see that this person has a heart condition, or is in a wheelchair and can’t do this stuff, then they are more motivated. That gets more buy-in from parents and everybody.”

“This is a very valuable thing for them,” Hitzler said. “A lot of my students, this is a first in a lot of ways. I have a lot of low income students so their parents don’t own their house. They don’t do lawn maintenance and stuff. Along with that, they don’t get to see a project from start to finish and that’s a huge confidence builder. I get the occasional student who asks ‘why should we help them’ or ‘are they paying me’ but that goes away real quick once we get there.”

Ashley Funyak contributed to this article.

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