What started out as an overarching classroom theme grew into an expansive service project for students in the Newton High School Ag Career Academy that culminated Friday with Ag students and more helping package 10,000 meals for Numana to be sent to one of three locations in need (Nicaragua, El Salvador or Honduras).

Sustainability was at the heart of the lesson, said Ag Academy science teacher Lacie Fair, as students have been researching that throughout the semester and learning how their food security compares to other nations around the world.

"It's really crazy to see how many people are actually in a situation where they do not have enough food to actually sustain themselves," said Newton High School sophomore Drake Hamm.

Paired with the Ag Academy's focus on service to the community, a partnership with Numana (as well as Convoy of Hope) to help send meals to countries in need seemed a perfect real world application for that lesson on sustainability.

With the goal of offering a more complete experience learning about the work that goes into helping provide that sustainability, Ag Career Academy students were involved in every aspect of the Numana project — from raising the $3,000 needed to finance meals (selling pork chops and hamburgers at each home football game this fall) to marketing the project to being trained to lead the packing/assembling process.

"There are so many different opportunities to learn from this opposed to just showing up, packing meals and leaving," said Ag Academy history teacher Elizabeth Gunn. "I think the biggest one was to see the connection of everything that we've been talking about in our classrooms and then wanting to make sure that they're invested and that they're the ones that are owning this."

Students jumped in wholeheartedly, Fair noted, and the opportunity to help serve was also opened up to the rest of the high school and the Newton community — with NHS groups like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Students for Racial Justice, Railer Ambassadors and more offering their assistance, as well as the Newton Chamber of Commerce (following a presentation Ag Academy students made leading up to packing day).

Multiple lessons were taught throughout the time students were preparing for the packing day — including having students go through a hunger simulation — and through it all the Ag Academy students were committed to the service efforts. That was a crucial part of the project in Gunn's eyes.

"It's huge. We used to have it (service) as part of our portfolio and our requirements for graduation, but it's been taken out of that, and I think that's something that kids are missing — the giving back, doing something without getting something in return element."

During the day of packing, Hamm noted it was amazing to see the turnout from the rest of the student body to help with the project as they formed assembly lines to prepare all the ingredients and pack away the meals, with 10,000 put together rather quickly with the number of volunteers involved. For Fair, it was a good sign seeing the students so committed to this project and she hopes it is an eye-opening experience that makes students aware of all the other opportunities for service around them.

"Seeing all of these people come together and help package all this food for people who we don't even know is really cool to see," Hamm said.

"Basically, we're trying to get the kids to understand that they're not in this world alone and that we would all be a little bit better if we band together and help each other," Fair said. "We are presented with opportunities to do that every second of every day and whether your eyes are open to that or not is maybe where we should all be focusing a little bit more attention, looking for those opportunities."