Sturgis Charter School Student Inspires Peers to Make a Difference

Elizabeth Leavey uses a computer at Atria Woodbriar. She is just one benefactor of Sturgis Charter School's passion project.CHRISTOPHER KAZARIAN/ENTERPRISE - Elizabeth Leavey uses a computer at Atria Woodbriar. She is just one benefactor of Sturgis Charter School's passion project.

Teenagers today are often portrayed by the media as selfish, perhaps tied to the popularity of smartphones, which have given rise to such terms as “selfies,” recently chosen the word of the year for 2013 by Britain’s Oxford University Press.

But not all teens can be conveniently lumped into this category and often they are the polar opposites of how they are generically depicted on television, print or the radio. Julia Tager of West Falmouth is a prime example; she is among the current generation of students who have a demonstrated empathy for others.

The junior attending the Sturgis Charter Public School in Hyannis volunteers as a student teacher in preschool and kindergarten classes at the Falmouth Jewish Congregation and takes photographs of pets at local animal shelters that are then placed online for people looking to adopt an animal.

This past summer the 16-year-old traveled to Costa Rica, volunteering in an orphanage for three weeks and when she got back she began lending her talents at Cranberry Sunset Farms, a horse rescue center in Marstons Mills, where those with special needs are taught how to ride.

As to why she has become so committed to helping improve the world, both at the local level and beyond, Julia acknowledged that her parents, David S. and Lisa K. Tager, and older siblings Alison, 23, and Daniel, 21, have played a pivotal role in her developing this interest. “I grew up in a family that values kindness and empathy and I think I was taught that at a really young age,” she said. “I find that is where I get my energy and happiness from, making an impact in something I care about.”

“I grew up in a family that values kindness and empathy and I think I was taught that at a really young age,” she said

Now she has taken that to an entirely new level, inspiring her peers at school to do the same through a club she helped form called the Sturgis Passion Project.

Its advisor is theory of knowledge teacher Marca A. Daley who has been impressed at the lengths the close to 25 students have gone to make a positive difference in issues at the local, regional, national and international level.

During Julia’s initial presentation, Ms. Daley said, “they stated exactly what their goal was: change the world one small step at a time. They have a manifesto that anyone can make a difference with enough hard work, dedication and kindness.”

Putting that into practice the students, under Julia’s leadership, have identified specific causes they are passionate about and then focused on ways they can make a meaningful impact on each one. They start off each month making a presentation on a specific issue they want to tackle—September, they focused on childhood cancer; October was domestic violence; and November and December are Alzheimer’s—and come up with creative ways to put their efforts to good use.

A New Goal Every Month

The first month the group raised $300 through bake sales that they donated to the Ronan Thompson Foundation of Arizona, the St. Baldrick’s Foundation of Monrovia, California, and Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation of Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.

The students also helped raise awareness about the impacts of childhood cancer, placing posters in the school and then wrote over 400 cards, sending them to children suffering from cancer and other diseases through the Chicago-based nonprofit Cards for Hospitalized Kids.

In October they collected used cellphones and through DoSomething.org, a nonprofit focused on young people and social change that Julia is involved with, donated them to be recycled and turned into money that goes to survivors of domestic abuse.

And in November the Sturgis Passion Project has begun working with the elderly with a focus on Alzheimer’s, something they hope to continue into December when they will also pool their money and purchase Christmas presents for a local family in need.

GIVING BACK

In 2014 Julia Tager is continuing her community service, trying to raise $10,000 to help build a school in Kenya through Change Heroes. 

Check out her latest endeavor here

Tied to the Alzheimer’s initiative three Sturgis students—Julia, Sami Bryant of Yarmouth and Lily L. Paradise of Sandwich—taught a class dubbed “grandparents gone wired” this past Saturday at Atria Woodbriar on Gifford Street. Though several of Atria’s residents had shown interest, only Elizabeth K. Leavey took advantage of the opportunity to learn how to better navigate the Internet.

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The goal behind the class is to help connect the elderly to their friends and family through an online portal, noting that depression among this age group “is really linked with Alzheimer’s and it can be combated with offering more social connections.”

The 88-year-old Ms. Leavey said the session was useful as it showed her how to check her e-mails, better communicate with family across the country using her Facebook page and took some time to enjoy videos on YouTube. “I picked out babies and dogs,” she laughed, about the videos she watched. “When babies are laughing, it’s a happy time.”

While she has a sufficient knowledge of computers, Ms. Leavey acknowledged there are times when the machines are confusing, noting that when her niece from Wellfleet visits, “she’ll ask me what I’ve done to my computer and I tell her, ‘I don’t know.’ ”

For Julia, the experience with Ms. Leavey was affirmation that helping others can serve as its own reward. “She was such a sweet woman and I think we were able to make a difference in her life, I hope,” she said. “She needed a little bit of help navigating her Facebook page, so we logged her onto that and helped her with her newsfeed and everything. It was one of the first times she was really involved in her social connections online and she was really thrilled to see pictures of her great-nephews and great-nieces. It brought her a lot of joy. We felt that joy as well.”

Watching her students get such joy out of performing these types of tasks has been enjoyable for Ms. Daley. “I love sitting back and watching them take off and follow their passions,” she said. “We don’t use that word very often in a positive sense with young people, especially with the media, but I see it every day here and I think it is great.”

Editor's Note: This story originally ran in the November 29, 2013 edition of the Falmouth Enterprise.

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