Coach Travis Lawson and his students at Gray Station Middle School have formed some new friendships this school year.
While it’s common for middle school students to spend a substantial amount of time making friends and socializing, Lawson’s students have added a few unexpected names to their friends lists.
In his Health class, Lawson was looking for an idea for a community service project for his students. He was in luck when a new business moved in next door. Autumn Lane Health and Rehabilitation Center is a new care facility that opened next door to Gray Station Middle School in June of 2019 and has provided the perfect solution.
Autumn Lane Health and Rehabilitation Center is in partnership with the Jones County Board of Education, and Gray Station Middle School is their partner school. When possible, a business and a partner school assist each other in various community efforts to benefit both parties. In an educational partnership of this kind, students can gain experience and knowledge of the business, while the business may receive help with programs or activities for the residents with the students’ assistance.
Lawson contacted Chap Nelson, the center’s administrator, to discuss ways in which he and his students could support the center and its residents, and his classes began visiting the residents at Autumn Lane in the fall of 2019. The students, along with GSMS administration, have visited numerous times during this school year, with the visits centering around times of celebration such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Lawson says they are also planning to organize a modified field day for residents before the end of the school year.
When possible, students arrive at the center bearing gifts. With the help of Leigh Ann Howell and Donna Skocyzlas, as well as many GSMS students, residents at Autumn Lane were provided with handmade pillows, ornaments and other gifts for Christmas. On other occasions, students have made cards, written letters, taken treats, and made arts and crafts.
Autumn Lane’s Social Services Director Joanne Braswell spoke with Nelson and Linda Ingles to get an idea of the impact of the students’ visits to the residents of the center. They told her, “We are proud to be a community partner with Gray Station Middle School. Our residents are always so very happy whenever Mr. Lawson and the students come for a visit. They interact with the residents as if they are extensions of their own family. After every visit, our residents are eager to tell us about their personal interactions with the students. Although there’s somewhat of a pathway between Gray Station and Autumn Lane, we are collaborating with the school to create an actual walkway between the two buildings. Autumn Lane looks forward to a long relationship with Gray Station Middle School for many years to come.”
Upon returning to GSMS after each visit, students reflect upon their experiences in their journals in class. According to Lawson, the impact of these visits has revealed the wonderful character in his students as they have formed bonds with some of the residents at Autumn Lane. Students have demonstrated considerable kindness and respect.
Seventh-grade student Blake Davis described the visits as an enriching experience. He enjoyed speaking to his grandfather to learn his stories.
“Coach Lawson was a role model for all, with his attitude to bring joy to others,” Blake said. “The caretaker of the residents was joyful, but serious. She wants to give joy to others who have no joy in their lives.”
Gray Station Middle School Principal Leigh Ann Knowles described Lawson’s project by saying, “This is a great partnership and the perfect way to give back to our community. Our students look forward to visiting the residents each time. Lawson has done an excellent job organizing and making Gray Station Middle School shine.”
Lawson plans to continue this project with his students throughout this school year and with future students. His class’s motto is “We Are HEART Strong.” He and his students are excited to get to work on the walking path that leads from Gray Station to Autumn Lane. This will be one more way of creating a permanent connection between them.