Ryder Dow, 11, walks backward with his end of a box of food while Angel Lopez, 12, helps carry the load to their Social Skills classroom at North Lake Middle School. Other students help their teacher, Ange Kendall, unload food that will soon be delivered to the Lake Stevens Community Food Bank. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Ryder Dow, 11, walks backward with his end of a box of food while Angel Lopez, 12, helps carry the load to their Social Skills classroom at North Lake Middle School. Other students help their teacher, Ange Kendall, unload food that will soon be delivered to the Lake Stevens Community Food Bank. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Special teacher’s class making changes, helping the hungry

At North Lake Middle School, kids learn social skills while serving others with food bank project.

Ryder Dow and his North Lake Middle School classmates sorted cans and food packages Wednesday. The 11-year-old stopped when he spotted a box of Teddy Grahams. Seeing those sweet treats, he may have been tempted to try one — but instead thought of others.

“That will be a great snack for somebody,” said Ryder, a sixth-grader at the Lake Stevens school.

He’s a member of teacher Ange Kendall’s Social Skills class. The daily class is new this year.

“I’m so excited about this class. This is my dream. It’s the highlight of my 14 years as a teacher,” said Kendall, who also teaches a math class.

Many are helping the hungry around Snohomish County this holiday season. Sixth- and seventh-graders in the Social Skills class helped too, by assisting teachers from the Lake Stevens Education Association in their effort to boost supplies at the Lake Stevens Community Food Bank.

On Thursday, the kids took a field trip — their first outing together to show kindness in the community, Kendall said. Loaded with bags and boxes, they walked to Ebenezer Lutheran Church, the Lake Stevens food bank’s current home.

“As a class, our focus is to redefine who we are in both our school and community,” Kendall said in an email inviting The Herald to stop by Wednesday as they sorted food. Her class, she wrote, has been “proudly renamed Team CASE (Compassionate, Amazing Students that Encourage others).”

Kids in her class all have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) with goals related to behavior or social-emotional issues. But all of them spend most of the school day in general education classes.

She described the midday period as a “service learning approach” and “generosity model” that helps kids replace behaviors that don’t serve them well at school or in the community. They’re creating a “tool box,” she said, to help them build relationships, gain responsibility and improve life at school and elsewhere.

“It’s fun, because you can express yourself and decompress,” said Hunter Wallner, 12, a seventh-grader in Kendall’s class. Angel Lopez, 12, agreed. “You can take a break from all the other classes,” he said.

“Yeah, it’s kind of a break in your day,” said seventh-grader Charles Free. “And we’re getting to help other people,” the 12-year-old said.

As kids enter Kendall’s classroom, they check in by rating how they’re doing that day on a scale of one to 10. Sixth-grader Jacob Chanthavong explained that “10 is I won the lottery, and one is I lost my dog.”

“I have always wanted to teach a program for at-risk kids. It gives them a place where they can be real,” said Kendall, who acknowledged her own high school struggles in the Spokane area. “My kids know I barely graduated high school,” she said. She went on to Spokane Falls Community College, Gonzaga University and to earn a master’s degree in education.

Lake Stevens teachers dropped their donated food at a local business Tuesday afternoon. By Wednesday morning, Kendall had it loaded in her car at school. Her students lugged food-filled boxes into her classroom in North Lake’s portable 3.

On the floor, they organized and sorted the goods — canned fruits and veggies, packets of ramen, boxed macaroni and cheese, rice and pasta, canned meat and chili, granola bars and other snacks. Kendall wrote food categories on a dry-erase board, and asked students about how best to pack up the groceries for delivery.

There were gentle reminders from the teacher. “If I were getting this at the food bank,” Kendall said, “would I want Top Ramen that’s been crushed and thrown on the floor?” A sign on the wall in Kendall’s room says: “In This Class Mistakes Are Expected Respected Inspected.”

There were light moments, too. When one student asked what Spam is, Kendall answered “canned ham.” And kids let out a collective “eewwww.”

One class member recalled visiting the food bank “many times” with family. “We recently got a Thanksgiving basket,” the student said. “This is a way to give back all the food we’ve been given.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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