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Sometimes the classroom just doesn’t cut it when it comes to teaching students about their community.

This week, the eighth-graders at The Option Program at Seward (TOPS), a Seattle alternative public school, are donating their time and help to social-service organizations in the Seattle area.

The program, called “Planting the Seeds,” started Tuesday and ends Thursday afternoon. Students, supervised by adults, are helping organizations that assist the homeless and urban poor, places such as food banks and women’s centers.

The students are doing everything from sorting food to making valentines, depending on the organization.

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The chaperoned kids will sleep away from home in places such as churches.

Lori Eickelberg, a language-arts teacher at TOPS, helped start the program a few years ago and said it was modeled on a project from the private Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences.

This week marks the sixth time TOPS has conducted the program, Eickelberg said.

The eighth-grade project derived its name from the words of the Dalai Lama, who talked of the “seeds of compassion,” Eickelberg said.

“And I think this project plants a seed,” she said. “I don’t know if it’ll change anybody’s life forever, but … I hope that it plants a seed of finding the beauty in the other,” referring to those who are marginalized.

Kids will use maps to navigate the city and will have a limited amount of transportation passes. Eickelberg also said kids cannot bring any extra food, or phones and iPods, with them during the trip.

“They’re in the moment, and we want them to understand that, you know, you don’t have everything all the time … you have to make do,” she said.

Not only does the project help kids learn about the community, it also helps them explore their independence and self-reliance, she said.

Eickelberg said the project helps students “feel that they can make a difference in a very small way.”

On Friday, students will talk about the experiences they gained from the trip, Eickelberg said.

On Tuesday, a group of students walked from the school to the University District Food Bank, where they helped stock shelves with nonperishable food items.

One of the students, 14-year-old Ellie Malone, had donated to a food bank before but had never been inside one and seen all the storage rooms.

She said she was “looking forward to just learning a lot and getting a better sense of the community of Seattle.”

Safiya Merchant: or 206-464-2299

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