Nadine Hernandez DeWitt, 21, (right), a student at New Vistas High School, helps decorate for the the holidays at the Portage (Ind.) Historical Society on Dec. 7, 2012. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 27, 2013 6:16AM
New Vistas High School in Portage is reaching above and beyond state standards, adding self-esteem and personal sacrifice to its “curriculum.”
For several students, the difference is having a life-changing impact. Recently, students volunteered to help groups throughout Portage prepare for the holidays. One location, the Alton Goin Historical Museum, was cleaned and decorated in preparation for winter festivities.
Students dusted antique items, including a Victrola, glass milk bottles, kerosene lamps, a rug loom, flat irons, Maytag washer with plunger, ringer, scrub board and more. They removed cobwebs, swept, vacuumed, mopped and scrubbed.
Nadine Hernandez DeWitt of Hobart joined the group. She began volunteering at the museum to receive credits for one of her classes. Today, she has more than tripled her required hours of service by working on various projects.
“I dropped out of school my senior year because I was sick,” DeWitt said. “Now, I’m coming to New Vistas to finish my diploma. I want to try to get a scholarship for college.
“I love (volunteering). I worked in the cemetery to document graves and put them online so others could find them. I made signs by the road and helped make a display.”
After cleaning the building, students set up a Christmas tree near the front entrance, and adorned it with antique ornaments. Lights and decorations were hung throughout other areas of the museum.
Chris Bishop of Portage is a senior at the school. He worked with the students, dusting and decorating. He said he dropped out previously because he didn’t understand the value of his education at the time. Today, he has a greater appreciation of his instructors and academics.
“New Vistas is a good opportunity for me; I like it a lot,” he said. “The classes aren’t large, so it’s a lot of personal time with the teachers.
“The students are great, too. It’s important to me to get my diploma, more than I realized. I couldn’t ask for a better place to get it. After I get my diploma, I want to go into missions.”
Teacher Glenda Nicholas said she appreciates the uniqueness of the school and how staff members express their love for the students.
“We accept the students for their differences,” Nicholas said. “It’s a really good group of kids. I think they feel like they’re wanted.
“I feel at home here, and so do the kids. I feel fortunate.”
Locations for other community projects performed by student volunteers that day included Portage Community Gardens, Rebuilding Together Portage, Real Life Community Church, and the Portage Branch of the Porter County PublicLibrary.
The students will perform their next community service project in March. For more information, Contact Don Knotts at 850-4448.