Desert Christian Middle School teacher Bob Vance says some of the best teaching he does all year happens off campus.
Every year the private school, at 7525 E. Speedway, sends its students out of the classroom for Mission Education Week - five days of field trips and service projects. This year Mission Education Week was March 18-22.
"The goal is to kind of get out of the school and get into the community and do community service," Vance said. "It's a different type of education than the typical classroom setting."
Vance, a science teacher, took 37 of the school's 172 students to Phoenix to pack meals for the hungry under the guidance of nonprofit Feed My Starving Children, a Phoenix-based group that helps organizations put together nonperishable meals, then partners with other groups to send the meals around the world.
He had help from his colleague, fellow northwest-side resident Karen Tvrdy, who teaches music and P.E. at the school, as well as reading and writing teacher David Jorg.
The students packed 2,000 meals and donated about $1,900 raised in a change collection drive, which funded 8,000 more meals.
Another group of 34 middle schoolers spent most of the week at Life in Christ Bilingual Church, 102 E. Palmdale St., feeding and speaking with homeless people.
Other students visited nursing homes as well as police and fire departments.
"Part of the whole concept is we want all our kids out in the community to serve others," said Desert Christian Middle School principal Ron Smith.
"For one week … we do something for somebody else."
Janine Skinner, Feed My Starving Children development adviser, said the Desert Christian group, which was the first Tucson school to make a trip to aid the organization, did a superb job.
"They brought kids up on a bus from Tucson. It's awesome," Skinner said, adding that middle school students tend to do some of the best packing work.
"We get excited about middle schoolers because they're some of the best fundraisers, and there are some enthusiastic, dedicated packers," she said.
"It's a great age because the kids really get old enough to understand what they're doing. It's a great point in their lives of being able to care about other people."
Smith said he hasn't heard of any other schools that run a similar program, but he hopes others will follow suit. Skinner agreed.
"I think it's pretty unusual," she said. "I haven't run across it very many times. I think it's an amazing thing to expose kids to volunteering and service at a young age. It can turn them into lifelong volunteers."
Vance said the lessons of the service week are not reserved solely for students.
"I feel like I get blessed more than I bless anybody else," he said. "It feels like a sense of satisfaction I can't describe. The feeling of getting out and just helping somebody who needs a little bit of help - we get something huge out of that."
Smith said the satisfaction Vance spoke about is one of the most important things kids can learn from the event.
"They love it," Smith said. "They really look forward to it. They talk about it for months before it happens."
Parent Jill Reilly, who lined up a guest speaker for the week, said she was happy to send her daughter, 11-year-old Sofia, to Phoenix to help pack the food.
"I love that she was able to do something locally to help children around the world," Jill said.
Sofia said she felt as though she were making a difference.
"It made me happy," she said. "To know that kids who are starving and to feel like those kids are going to get food."
Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or firstname.lastname@example.org