Service learning isn’t a new concept for West Ashley Middle School English teacher Samantha Gentrup and her seventh-grade students.

Each week, the students have “Make it Real Mondays,” where Gentrup introduces a news item or social issue to her students, sometimes with guest speakers knowledgeable in those areas. On Friday, the students will read the stories they wrote with a classmate on one of these topics to children at local elementary schools.

These 95 West Ashley Middle School students are part of 4,000 youths participating in Trident United Way’s Tricounty Youth Service Day. Some groups completed their projects throughout April, but many will serve Friday. This service day is part of Global Youth Service Day celebrated all over the world.

Sally Burnett, community volunteer coordinator for Trident United Way, said the students will cover the entire tri-county area and learn leadership and teamwork and connect to their communities.

“They are an important part of something bigger,” Burnett said.

Gentrup said her students journal about the issues they discuss on Mondays and eventually will write a persuasive essay on it. She said their work is stronger because it’s about an issue they are passionate about.

Several students, like Brandon Halley and Isaiah Lynch, wrote their book on bullying because it was something they’ve both dealt with. “We’re telling them to stand up for what they believe in and speak to their parents and school officials about it,” Brandon said.

Amanda Bennett and Katelyn McClain got a bit creative and made their story about bullying and deforestation.

“Our story is about rainforest workers who are bullying the animals,” Amanda said. “Animals can be bullied, too.”

Gentrup has been teaching for nine years but began her career as a software trainer for an engineering company. Then 9/11 happened.

“What am I doing?” she asked herself. “I am here for something bigger.”

She hopes that other teachers will share the importance of service and social awareness with their students because it’s “what education is all about.”

“That’s why I became a teacher. The world is so much bigger than the classroom. Sometimes they (students) feel powerless, but that’s why I’m here. It’s about empowering them to change,” she said.

Gentrup said the younger students are always “mesmerized” by the seventh-graders when they read to them. It also boosts the older students’ confidence in themselves.

“The only way we’re going to change is if the next generation gets involved. We’re becoming so isolated with technology. It’s important to reach out to feel connected,” she said.

Reach Jade McDuffie at 937-5560 or jmcduffie@postandcourier.com.