This School Gives Students Credit for Doing Yard Work for Seniors

Instead of running laps, or climbing ropes, these teens get out in the community and do good for physical education credit


(Dennis Jacobsen /

On a sunny June morning in Dubuque Iowa, groups of young people were out doing yard work for people in the community who can't physically do the work themselves. They weren't raking in the cash; they were working for physical education class credit. 

As part of the curriculum from the Alternative Learning Center – a school for kids who are at risk of dropping out – students can choose from a variety of activities during the last two weeks of school to get class credit. Doing the yard work is only one of the choices which include much more fun activities like canoeing and hiking.

The students worked alongside Tim Hitzler, the teacher who launched the program. He told KWWL News that they would be doing an assortment of outdoor tasks. “The students and I and other students come out and help them. Could be raking leaves, pulling weeds, cutting grass, cleaning gutters, just depends on what they need.”

Hitzler said he added the yard work a few years ago as an option for credit because it is a good way for the students to get out and help the community and it also benefits the students too.

“The students aren’t typically too excited at the beginning but once they get involved and start doing the yard work, they become more motivated. What they really like is A: helping people. They really like giving back to people and meeting the person.”

One of the students, 17-year old Nick Colson, told the National Public Radio Morning Edition in an interview that without the program, he never would have met any of his neighbors.

" I'm more of like a go-to-school-go-to-work-home-repeat kind of guy. So to me, I probably would not have met any of these people, " Nick said.

The program has been such a success that Hitzler, wants to expand it into the fall when the teens return to school.  

"You know, in education, a lot of times, there's so many different gimmicks and curriculum packages you can buy and things like that. And something like this - all you need is a few garden tools," Hitzler said in the interview. "You know, I mean, it just makes sense. It's so simple. And it works."

Matching at risk teens with seniors and disabled people works. The people who need help receive it and the students gain empathy and how to be part of a community. No lesson in the classroom can do this anywhere near as well.

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