It started with an idea from a Hesperia Junior High student. The student came to 8th-grade history teacher Michelle McKechnie last year and asked if she and others could do a project not typically associated with scholastics - help others.


Soon the teacher started "Kids Care Club" during lunch. Then social studies teacher Brianna Richardson joined in.


What started as a simple idea blossomed into a series of service-oriented projects that the club performed over the course of the school year. They organized a canned food drive for the Victor Valley Rescue Mission, prepared care packages to give to needy families at Christmastime, raised money for gift cards for seven Hesperia Junior families in need, sold student-created artwork with profits going to Loma Linda University Hospital.


But that was just the start.


Club members also helped clean up a portion of Mariposa and Eucalyptus on the city-sponsored Hesperia Cleanup Day, raised money for the Ronald McDonald House by sponsoring a talent contest, cut their hair -- with hairstyling services provided by the district's cosmetology class based at the Mojave High campus -- and donating the locks to Pantene's Beautiful Lengths, raised "Pennies for Patients" for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, raised money at a school concession stand with proceeds going to help pay for a teacher's hearing aid, and began correspondence with a girl in the Philipines through Make A Child Smile organization.


The event that showed the teachers how much students were learning about caring was when the participants went to Hesperia Senior Campus to help the elderly residents with arts and crafts.


"'We want to come back! We want to come back!' the students said," according to McKechnie.


"Our kids just embraced them," added Richardson. "It was incredible."


The club has grown into a full-blown class called the Service Learning class, which is jointly taught by McKechnie and Richardson. And project plans are flowing.


"We have so many ideas," McKechnie said. It's hard to narrow it down."


Currently the class is preparing Trick-or-Treat boxes for United Nations Children's Fund, commonly known as UNICEF. Students are also writing thank-you letters to the firefighters who tended to the victims of the recent train crash in Chatsworth. The class is also planning on raising money to send to the Red Cross for assisting victims of the recent hurricane, and it will collect clothes for Santa's Clothes located at Hesperia High. A field trip to a local fire station is also in the works; students want to thank Hesperia firefighters for keeping the community safe.


Learning to care for others is as important as learning to the Three R's - 'writing, Reading and 'rithmetic.


"Part of being a good person is being aware that people suffer and that we can help them," McKechnie said. "This class makes them more aware and appreciative of what they have."


Principal Robert McCollum agreed.


"Our whole goal is to prepare our students for life. This class focuses children on what's important and on being a good person."


The class is so impressive that the Hesperia Rotary club, which McCollum is a member, is helping to sponsor class projects.


"We went ahead and green-lighted the program," McCollum said. "They've met the parameters. It's pretty phenomenal. It's a model for a middle school class."


Moreover, the spirit of the class emanates beyond the classroom.


"It's a sense of purpose," he said. "As a school culture we're taking a big step forward."


And students pass along the message that giving and helping are things worth learning about.


"It's contagious," McKechnie said.