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Woodstock students create better community through friendship, service

Feb 21, 2018 05:07PM ● Published by Julie Slama

Woodstock Parent-Teacher Association volunteers serve students hot chocolate after they filled several refrigerator-size boxes full of food donations. (Brenda Zimmerman/Woodstock Elementary)

By Julie Slama |


It may be one can at a time —or one student reaching out to another—but through these simple actions, Woodstock Elementary students may be creating a better community.

First, it was the installation of a buddy bench on the school playground where students could include a classmate sitting on the bench to play with at recess.

“The students notice kids sitting there and approach them and include them at recess,” said Brenda Zimmerman, who became principal of Woodstock Elementary this school year. “The buddy bench has promoted kindness and friendship.”

Then, it was the school’s annual Cans for Cocoa event where many students brought cans of needed food items to share with their peers in Granite School District.

“The students get so excited to see a pile of food and know it was going to families who need it. It’s meaningful to them and to our community,” she said.

The results are evident, Zimmerman said.

“They’re learning compassion and the spirit of giving. By helping others, they’re creating a strong spirit in our community,” she said.

The yellow buddy bench came from former Woodstock third-grade teacher Shirly Durham, who also attended kindergarten at the elementary school.

“The kids didn’t know about it until after it was installed in November. We did a PowerPoint about what the buddy bench is about and they had a chance to thank the donor. We gave them yellow friendship bracelets as a reminder of the bench’s message,” she said.

Since then, Zimmerman has seen groups of students walking to the bench approaching others to join in their play.

“It’s already being used and having a positive impact,” she said.

Another impact has been the tradition of Woodstock’s Cans for Cocoa drive in December. Students are asked to bring food, as well as clothing and money, to donate to Cottonwood High’s food pantry. At lunch, each student is treated to a cup of hot chocolate.

“We had four or five refrigerator-size boxes filled with food by the generous spirits of our students and families,” Zimmerman said.

Cottonwood High food pantry coordinator Robyn Ivins said that these five-foot tall boxes supply students with the necessary items — food to personal hygiene to school supplies — for them and their families.

“We have about 100 students who come in twice each week to help get items for their families, many who have four to 12 kids in the household,” she said. “These students appreciate those who reach out to help them.”

Ivins, as a PTA member, also is coordinating Woodstock Elementary’s 14th annual school-wide reading fundraising week, March 5-9. This year’s theme, “Reading Rocks” ties into the school theme of “Rock to your own beat.”

The goal is to have students read 7,000 minutes and raise $10,000 for PTA projects and activities, she said.

Although students appreciate the lunchtime activities and daily incentives, and some surprise guest speakers, most students especially look forward to the “drop everything and read” day on Friday.

“The kids wear PJs, and bring blankets and pillows to their classes. They create forts and have fun reading books all day,” Ivins said.

Once donations and pledges, which can be made in person or online, are gathered and totaled, the PTA dads will hold their annual pancake and awards breakfast, planned for Friday, March 23, where they honor the readers with prizes.

“This is the biggest thing we do,” Ivins said. “Everyone is so excited—and it’s all about reading.”

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