by Shannon Carr, Board Support and Communications Specialist
Pomeroy Elementary School is instilling important life skills for some of its sixth graders by allowing them to lead and complete community service projects. After-school program Club 6 was founded by Assistant Principal Deanna Sainten, then a teacher, and former Paraeducator Reynard Elzey 11 years ago with the intention of having a safe place for students to go and do homework after school, and with a purpose of her own.
“Community service has always been a passion for me and part of my life. Teaching is a really demanding job, and Club 6 became something I looked forward to every week. It was mine, it had never been done here before, and seeing the students’ dedication has always been a source of inspiration,” Sainten explained. “Club 6 provides balance for me in my career.”
Sainten said it was only natural to form the club into one centered around civic engagement in order to instill leadership, teamwork, and build camaraderie amongst the students.
“I enjoy Club 6 because we get to help the people in need and when those are happy, I am happy,” said sixth grader Chloe Kwan. “Ms. Sainten and Coach Rey are kind and joyful leaders that I admire. This makes Club 6 a better place for everyone.”
Every Wednesday throughout the year, the approximately 60 sixth graders take the initiative to develop, organize, and complete service projects to benefit the local community. Sainten emphasized that while she and Elzey are present each week during the club time to provide guidance and supervision, Club 6’s service projects are entirely student run.
The club is tied directly to one of Milpitas Unified School District’s Strategic Goals, to “Develop educational pathways that allow students to apply their passion in learning for their future careers.”
“Club 6 is like a miniature sanctuary for me. Whenever I am having a tough time, Club 6 will always cheer me up,” said sixth grader Jenny Nguyen. "The people here are really friendly and the projects we have are always fun to conduct. It makes me feel good knowing I’m helping somebody out.”
During the first meeting of the school year, Sainten explained students share their ideas and create a list of potential projects that are voted on, with the exception of a couple non-negotiables. Each year, they gather more than 1,500 pounds plus dollar donations of food for Second Harvest Food Bank and each year they fill more than 10 massive bins worth of clothing donations for Sacred Heart Community Center, focusing on jackets in the winter time. Upward of six projects are completed each year and once one is decided on, students come up with a plan on how to execute it, which often involves asking those in the entire school for donations.
“I love Club 6 because I get to share my ideas and help the community,” said sixth grader Estela Paniagua. “I love helping people out and we do fun activities for the school. Club 6 is a safe place and an amazing club.”
There is a wide breadth of projects that the students have participated in, from gathering 200 to 300 toys for the Milpitas Fire Department to distribute to local families during the holidays to raising $2,200 in five days for local women’s and children’s shelters through Penny Wars, conducting a park and school cleanup, gathering more than $2,000 for the Humane Society over the years in addition to making blankets for the animals and collecting donations, writing letters to the people affected by the California wildfires and working tirelessly to raise funds in conjunction with other sixth grade initiatives to raise enough funds to have a well built in a village in South Sudan through the Iron Giraffe Challenge.
Sainten shared an unforgettable project that took the entire school year. Last year the club put together 100 backpacks filled with toothbrushes, toilet paper, soaps, lotion, and other toiletries for those that were currently homeless in the community. Sainten and Elzey, in partnership with Officer Alex Prince from the Milpitas Police Department, drove around Milpitas for three hours to distribute backpacks among 10 encampments.
“We literally got to hand them to people,” she said. “That’s something I will never forget.”
Valerie Makower, Diana Orlando, and Sangeetha Ramu shared their perspective as parents about the impact Club 6 and its service projects has made on their children. While they had different stories, each shared a common theme; that the club helped build their children’s leadership skills that began in sixth grade but which has continued well throughout their life.
Orlando’s daughter Sophia and Ramu’s daughter Elakya Thirumoorthy are currently in college while Ramu’s other daughter Nithila Thirumoorthy is currently in Club 6, Makower’s daughter Kayla is a sophomore at Milpitas High School and her daughter Leah is in sixth grade at Pomeroy.
“Ms. Sainten resonated with our family because we are all about community service and donations, and being a blessing to others when you have been blessed yourself,” Makower said. “And she was an extension of pretty much what our family philosophy is.”
Ramu shared similar sentiments.
“It is a very important life skill to feel the empathy and do for others,” Ramu said. “So instead of teaching it in words and writing, you do it in action and it brings out even more. I think the action part makes them learn that there are so many people who need our help and contribution to community.”
She added that both of her daughters’ sense of belonging, community, and leadership skills were acquired through Club 6. For her daughter in college, Elakya, she is in leadership there while her younger one, Nithila, is a very empathetic person, has become a school officer and is trying out for leadership at Thomas Russell Middle School next year.
“She talks about compassion, belonging, community, kindness, giving,” in her application, Ramu said, “and I think all that is role modeled here at Club 6.”
Orlando agreed that Club 6 lays the groundwork for a lot of students who continue to be leaders through opportunities in middle school, high school, and college. She added that the foundation that is laid for those skills is often unknown when they first join.
“You really start to see the kids who are true leaders and it is the ones sometimes you would never think would step up to play that,” she said. “…We always say every kid has their niche. Well Club 6 becomes their niche for a lot of our kids who wouldn’t do it in their regular classroom.”
Sainten is not sure what the future of Club 6 holds but is thrilled with how it has developed. For some of her former students, for example, they started a Club 6 at Milpitas High School the last two years.
Ramu shared that it is important because, “School is not just about academics. It is about developing civic responsibility too. So I think in that way Club Six is on the dot and I would say it would be great if all our schools in our district could do something like this.”