COVINGTON -- At this time of year, going to school doesn't only involve taking tests and getting homework assignments -- it also is a time to think about others.
Although schools in Newton and Rockdale counties hold fundraisers and collection drives throughout the school year to raise money and supplies for both the schools and others in the community, the holiday season is especially a time for schools to collect funds and in-demand items for others.
Area schools are holding drives to collect money, canned food, toys, jackets and other winter gear.
"Our school district has always been very supportive of community needs," said Dr. Steve Whatley, superintendent of the Newton County School System, after he learned that his students already had collected more than 10,000 cans of food for Covington's Food Pantry and the Salvation Army. "Even during these tough economic times, our students and employees have once again risen to the occasion and shown their generosity and community spirit."
Cousins Middle School's sixth-grade math classes alone collected 1,237 cans and non-perishable food items.
"The thing I like most about helping others is that at the end of the day, you know that your hard work paid off because you have helped someone," said CMS sixth-grader Jasmine McElroy.
This month, Newton High School's JROTC also began collecting toys for its annual Toys for Tots campaign, its largest community service project.
From noon until 4 p.m. Saturday and Dec. 5, the 184 JROTC students will collect toys at Big Lots and Wal-Mart in Covington; they also will collect toys at Covington's Christmas parade on Dec. 5.
"We have a lot of fun," Lt. Col. Dhamere Wimberly, a 12th-grader. "It's good to give back, and it makes me feel really good to give back to people who do not have as much as I do."
On Dec. 19, the group plans to distribute the toys it collected to the needy community members.
"That's what (JROTC) is all about -- giving back and setting an example," said Maj. Renee Horne, a 12th-grader.
Rockdale County is no different when it comes to giving to the community.
Through clubs and school-wide projects, students and staff are collecting winter gear for the needy, toys and other items to give out to the community this holiday season, in addition to the thousands of cans they already have collected for Rockdale's Food Bank.
At Lorraine Elementary School, staff members have set up an Angel Tree to collect items for families in need within the school and a Mitten Tree for students and families to decorate with mittens, hats, gloves, socks and scarves for the Rockdale Community Clothes Closet -- this is in addition to a clothing drive and food drive the school already held and a toy drive and another food drive it will hold after the Thanksgiving holidays.
"It's a wonderful feeling to know you are helping a family that has been faced with some unfortunate circumstances," said Sandy King, instructional lead teacher at the school.
Several other schools in Rockdale County also are organizing food and clothing drives, and Davis Middle School also has an Angel Tree set up in which individuals can pick an ornament that has an item listed on it.
Schools also try to keep the giving tradition alive throughout the school year.
"While our students and staff take great pride in providing for our school and community needs during the holidays, it's important to recognize that our staff and students contribute services throughout the school year," King said. "For example, it is not uncommon for staff members to pay children's lunch fees, provide clothing for children as the seasons change or they outgrow clothing and shoes, provide school supplies, or for an envelope to be circulated to collect donations for field trip, scholarships or other family needs. ... In addition, the staff and students are very involved in other charitable organizations like Relay for Life, United Way, Dollars for Diabetes and Jump Rope for Heart."