Sixth-grade service projects aids international families in the community

by Emily Canning-Dean

Thanks to the hard work and generosity of North Royalton’s sixth grade students, as well as local families and businesses, students and their families coming from other countries felt a bit more welcome and prepared as they arrived in northeast Ohio and joined local school districts.

Back in November, sixth graders at North Royalton Middle School embarked upon a special service project where they put together more than 260 backpacks for international students who have recently moved to northeast Ohio.

North Royalton Middle School Principal Erin Calabrese said the backpacks contained notebooks, folders, pencils and pens in a pouch, at least one pair of gloves and a hat and a positive picture or note of welcome. Additional items were added including toothbrushes, toothpaste, dental floss, extra hats and gloves, whiteboard markers and scissors while supplies lasted.

Calabrese estimated the cost to fill each backpack was roughly $20 so the thousands of dollars in donations from local families and businesses helped in making it possible to provide so many backpacks.

“We had great local support from our community,” she said. “Parents donated money and local businesses donated money and supplies and the kids came in and took the time to put the backpacks together.”

Calabrese said that over the last 16 months, the North Royalton School district saw an influx of international families joining their community. At North Royalton Middle School alone, the building welcomed 50 new students from out of the country just last year and they have added to that number during the 2023-24 school year.

“As I knew we would, North Royalton and Broadview Heights have welcomed these new families with open arms,” she said.

Calabrese said these backpacks will benefit students not only in the North Royalton and Broadview Heights communities, but in surrounding northeast Ohio communities as well.

“Our goal was to equip these kids who are walking into new situations as best we can,” she said. “We wanted to help them to be ready to go and to have one less thing they had to think about or to do.”

By presenting new students with these backpacks, Calabrese said the school was also able to create a more inviting community as these families sought northeast Ohio as a new place to call home. She said the service project also helped students learn to live the “Bear Way” by helping others in their own or surrounding communities.

Calabrese said the majority of the new students have come from the Ukraine, but some have come from other areas such as South Korea, China or the middle east. To assist with the influx of students who are not native English speakers, the school has added a second small group instructor who works with students who are currently learning English. She added that new translation technology and other programs have also helped students who are not native English speakers become acclimated to the school and the curriculum.

Calabrese said she is not surprised to see how welcoming and enthusiastic other students have been toward this influx of international students.

“Just the other day I went into a classroom and saw some of the English-speaking students assisting two Spanish speaking students,” she said.

Calabrese said she thinks it is possible the students will elect to do a similar service project in the future. She added that some of the backpacks the students assembled have remained at North Royalton Middle School so they can be given to new students as they join the school.

“We do see some of the students eventually depart the district, but in just the last month we have had five new students come in,” she said. “It’s nice because in this community we have been able to point them to a lot of good resources including local churches and other organizations. Our community has been very supportive. Anytime we reach out to local businesses they are always very willing to help.”

Businesses that donated to the service project include Krazy Bins, Salvatore Consiglio CPA, Leonti’s Outdoor Supply, Vinkovich Family Dental, Royalton Music Center, Augie’s Pizza and Ribs, Bonnie Palumbo of Howard Hanna, Cleveland Clinic Infection Prevention Team and North Royalton Middle School Student Council. ∞

Photo: Backpacks were filled with school supplies
as well as coats, hats and other items.

Photo (main / above): Thanks to a service project conducted by North Royalton sixth graders, students coming into northeast Ohio from other countries have all the supplies they need to start school in a new district. Photos submitted.