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Students from Holston High volunteer in Damascus

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DAMASCUS, Va. — Nearly 60 students from Holston High School spent the morning last Friday participating in a service day for the town of Damascus.

The students were transported by bus to the downtown area, where five groups of students divided up to work on different projects like painting a garage building at the new Damascus Trail Center, clearing land for a new dog park, removing rocks from the Virginia Creeper Trail between Green Cove and Creek Junction, picking up trash in downtown and caroling from the sidewalks on Main Street.

Steve Ahn, a biology teacher at the school who was instrumental in organizing the service project, said events like this one help students become more connected to the community.

“We want our students to not just be academically intelligent but also have a sense of citizenship and place. There’s a lot of movement in education today that focuses on project-based learning where students learn by engaging in real-world challenges and problems,” said Ahn.

Several members of the community and school staff helped to pull off the schoolwide service event.

“Our principal, Gabe Long, was an active supporter of the idea, an integral team member, and he did a lot of behind-the-scenes work. It wouldn’t have happened had he not taken an active role,” said Ahn.

Other helpers for the project include Lisa Quigley of the Virginia Creeper Trail Conservancy, Emily Mayo of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and residents Richard Smith and Susan Coleman. Erinn Linkous, a teacher at the school, worked with Highlands Fellowship Church to donate 70 lunches for the students. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Virginia Creeper Trail Conservancy provided desserts and drinks. Mike Reid, who serves as deputy for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and a resource offer at the school, arranged for the use of a side-by-side to help students haul gravel to the trail work site.

“I appreciate the students coming here with lots of energy and focus on getting the work done,” said Smith, who is a leader in getting the town’s new dog park built. “We cleared out part of the large dog and older dog areas that we hope to have open by May 1.”

Ahn said 90 students actually signed up for the service day, but there was room for only 58 students to participate.

“Students tend to get excited about service projects,” said Ahn, who takes his biology students on a coastal adventure each year to Duke University Marine Lab in Beaufort, North Carolina, where they live on campus for a five-day learning experience.

Last Friday’s service event was a trial run, he said. Ahn hopes to make the emphasis on service an annual goal for the high school by promoting service work on the last day of the semester before Christmas break and at the end of the school year in May.

“It’s really a win, win, win,” he said. “The service event benefits the town, and the students enjoy being part of the community and earning Community Scholar hours.”

Ahn said the event also helped the school maintain good attendance from the student body. “We normally have an attendance problem on the last day of school before Christmas break.”

Elijah Desrosiers, a senior at the school, was one of several student leaders for the project. He said the service project was a great way to help businesses in need and repay them for ways they give to the schools throughout the year.

Other student leaders who helped with the project include Nathan Shinault, Brandon Huggins, Raelin Bowman and Haley Manuel.

Skye Honaker, a junior at the school, worked at the location designated for a new dog park. “I thought this was a really good opportunity to help the community and get your hands dirty. I have a couple of dogs, and I’ve always thought a dog park in Damascus would be cool.”

Noah Smith, a senior who helped paint a garage building next to the Damascus Trail Center, said performing service work is just something he loves to do. “I love to serve my community any way I can.”

Emery Reid, a Spanish teacher at the high school and Damascus Middle School, jumped in to help the students at the dog park.

“I think any experience like this where we try to add some value to our community as well as gain some camaraderie from the effort is going to pay off. They’ll (the students) be glad they came Friday and sweated a little and finished the year on a good note, putting in some good time together.”

Carolyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer in Glade Spring, Virginia. Contact her at


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