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A group of students from Brandon Adult’s Underage GED program gave their time and compassion to reach out and help people in their community.

A simple service learning project evolves into monumental act of kindness

March 04, 2016

A group of students from Brandon Adult’s Underage GED program gave their time, personal supplies, and their compassion to reach out and help people that they likely will never meet.  They were inspired to do this by their instructor, Melanie Beiter, who has a special passion for her students.

When the Underage GED instructor, Melanie Beiter, asked her class if they were interested in participating in a simple service learning project right before the holidays, she was delighted by their reactions.  "All I asked them to do was help make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to donate to a local food pantry that serves the homeless housed at Nativity Catholic Church. Every student brought in supplies (bread, peanut butter, jelly, etc.) or assigned themselves to posts on the day the group assembled the sandwiches, while Ms. Beiter took on an observation-only role.

When asked why they participated, a couple of students were very quick to insist that it was their choice, and they chose to do what was right. Johnathon Webster, 17, in his second semester in the program at Brandon, said the project was “fun, but it was also something that needed to be done.”  He added, “I didn’t need to do it; I wanted to do it.  It was no skin off my back.  It was the right thing to do.”  His teacher added that “even the quiet ones participated, one of which is Johnathon.  Although he was not at school the day the assignments for supplies went out, when he got to school the day of the project, he got right in the mix, making sandwiches in the production line.”  Another student, Carlos Gomez, 16, who is heading to the Marines the minute he passes his final GED math exam, brought bread and jelly from home.  He said, "It felt good to do this – it’s good to help people that are down.”  He also volunteers at ECHO in Brandon when he has time.

So, simple things like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches can bring out the best in people.  Even people who just make the sandwiches can be bettered by a simple act of kindness.  Melanie Beiter is helping her students find the better person inside themselves.  According to Susan Balke, Melanie’s administrator at Brandon Adult School, “Her magic is empowering the students to reach and create their own personal and individual successes which involve passing the GED test, postsecondary options, and being active participants in their community.”  Melanie pointed out that, “I have a quote that I loved the moment I read it, and I keep it close in my classroom to remind me of my purpose when it seems like I'm spinning wheels in my classroom."  The quote is by Rita F. Pierson and it is this:  “Every child deserves a champion - an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be."   Melanie strives to be that champion for her students. 

Marc Hutek, Director of Adult Education, feels just as strongly about all of the district’s Underage GED programs.  He says, “Hillsborough County’s Underage GED programs are often the shimmering light at the end of a very long and dark tunnel.  They become the beacon of hope and opportunity to many of our district’s struggling students. Our teachers work incredibly well in helping to guide students to the successes that have often eluded them through their adolescence.  Our programs are life-saving and our teachers can be miracle workers!” 

Please enjoy the Flickr album below that contains photos of the entire PB&J process, and meet some of the students who were part of the Brandon Adult Underage GED activity. 

For more information about Adult Education programs in HCPS, go to and type “go adult-ed” in the search box.

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