Sixth graders from Shughart Middle School learned a lot about helping their community after Hurricane Matthew devastated the area in October of last year.

As part of a STEAM, or science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, community service project, students and teachers launched Operation Blackhawk Rescue and collected items for children attending W.H. Knuckles Elementary School in Lumberton, North Carolina, one of the hurricane’s hardest hit areas.

Incorporating a community service project into the STEAM curriculum was important to the sixth grade teachers, explained Amanda Dudman, Sixth Grade Team member. The students had been studying hurricanes when Matthew came through, so helping those affected by the hurricane seemed like a natural fit.

The students collected grocery and gas gift cards, Christmas presents and educational items like pencils, sharpeners and books.

Each of the more than 225 students at W.H. Knuckles received two wrapped presents and a bag full of goods, said Jackie Cates, Sixth Grade Team member.

Before the items were delivered, the students and faculty wrapped the presents and organized the care bags.

“It was Santa’s workshop for a week here,” Dudman said.

On Dec. 15, 10 sixth grade Shughart students traveled to W.H. Knuckles to deliver the gifts.

Paige Bigelow, Rodney Tabb Jr., Zachary Sanchez, Riley Fitzwater and Aylanyse Pagani were among the students who traveled to Lumberton to deliver the gifts.

“We saw a lot of debris and houses without roofs (on our way to the school),” said Tabb, age 12. “It made me feel really sad.”

Bigelow, 11, said she enjoyed going to W.H. Knuckles Elementary School to provide gifts to those less fortunate. She also donated personal items that were still in good condition.

“I felt like a miniature Santa Claus,” she said. “Acts of kindness can deflect your point of view about others.”

Fitzwater, 11, said seeing the happy expression on the kids’ faces was his favorite part of the experience.

The students said they were inspired by the community service project and hope to continue giving.

The community service project encompassed various aspects of STEAM, such as using their art and technology skills to write and produce a news skit that played during the school’s television announcements and creating advertising posters and newsletters.

They also learned about the science behind hurricanes and developed building models that could withstand hurricane winds.

The students are in the process of starting a pen-pal program with the students at W.H. Knuckles with a hope of visiting the school again to teach their pen-pals about STEAM.

“We want the kids to not just say we designed this or that, but we want them to have a greater meaning with STEAM,” Dudman said.