A group of Iowa students is stepping up to help community members get their yards ready for the summer — and they’re earning physical education credit in the process!
High school students at the Alternative Learning Center in Dubuque spent the last two weeks of the school year getting their hands dirty, Tim Hitzler, the social studies teacher who started the program, tells PEOPLE. They’ve signed up to help the elderly and those with disabilities with garden work, cutting down bamboo, and even tending to chicken coops, according to ABC affiliate KCRG.
“Once kids do it once, they wanna do it again. It’s good for them to learn real-life skills,” Hitzler tells PEOPLE. “They work hard, it’s not easy. They’re sweating when they’re done.”
The school’s curriculum allows students to choose from several activities during the last two weeks of school that will count toward their PE credit, Mike Cyze, a spokesperson for the Dubuque Community School District, tells PEOPLE. Hitzler oversaw the yard work program, but other students have cleaned up golf courses and a river barge, Cyze says.
Hitzler first started the program four years ago after the school launched a garden, he says. Every year since, students have worked alongside Hitzler for two hours each day during the school week at the end of the school year.
“The students and I and other students come out and help them. Could be raking leaves, pulling weeds, cutting grass, cleaning gutters, just depends on what they need,” Hitzler told NBC affiliate KWWL.
“The students aren’t typically too excited at the beginning, but once they get involved and start doing the yard work, they become more motivated,” he added to the station. “They really like giving back to people and meeting the person.”
Cyze says that 29 ALC students participated in the service program as part of their PE requirement. And Hitzler notes that 12 students signed up to do yard work specifically.
He says the program has become a community-building project, with community members inviting the students over for dinner and cookouts.
Some students have even volunteered to continue the community service over the summer.
“I’ve had students that graduated that have come back to help,” Hitzler tells PEOPLE. “There’s something about helping people that really need it.”
Hitzler says that he uses his own pickup truck for the efforts, relying on his own yard tools and some from the school as well. And he says he’s shocked that the act of kindness has garnered so much attention on the internet.
“It’s been amazing, the attention this has gotten,” he tells PEOPLE. “I think it’s because it’s such a simple idea.”