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Whiz Kids: 250 Geneva Whiz Kids Grow in Leadership While Planting Trees

More than 250 fifth-graders and high school students work together to beautify the high school.

There's no age requirement to be a whiz kid. Whether you're an artistic third-grader or a brilliant high-school senior, Geneva is full of outstanding students.

And this spring, more than 250 whiz kids of all ages banded together to beautify Geneva Community High School, planting a mixture of trees and shrubs—60 of them in 60 minutes.  

"The kids dug with their hands in the dirt," said Gwen Gelfuso, who organized the project. "Mr. Rogers said, 'You're not going to leave me with a mess, are you?' I said, 'No, sir!' And we didn't."

Gelfuso is the coordinator for High Elements, a districtwide mentorship program that pairs fifth-grade students with high schoolers who share their interests. This is the program's fourth year running, and the children were split up into eight classes—Spanish, French, German, Scholastic Bowl, Scrabble, Junior Artists, drama and football.

But under the guise of their favorite activities, the fifth-graders are learning about leadership skills, with a different focus each week of the five-week program.

This year, landscaping was the program's culminating project. "Part of leadership is service," Gelfuso said. "It's doing something for the school together." 

Watching the students work together was incredible for everyone involved, from Gelfuso and Rogers to the faculty supervisors.

"When you're in fifth grade and you're looking at a junior or a senior, you think they're a god," Gelfuso said. "And the high school kids learn from the little kids more than they thought. Maybe they reminded them of themselves."  

The students had a little help from Pat Francissen's team at Francissen Landscaping Group, Inc., which offered Gelfuso a discount on the flora and came out to mulch the area ahead of time. But they labored in unseasonably cold weather to get the project done.

When their hard work was finished, the students were rewarded with ice cream from Kimmer's in St. Charles, also offered at a discount by owner Kim Elam. Gelfuso said the program's inspirational nature has drawn in volunteers and businesses from all over the area. Lowe's Home Improvement in St. Charles even donated the hostas that now adorn the high school's main entrance.

"It takes a community to make a whiz kid," said Gelfuso. "It's not just the school and the teachers; there's something in the community that inspires people."

And four years from now, when those fifth-grade students walk through the doors of Geneva High School as freshmen, Gelfuso hopes they'll look at their handiwork and be inspired all over again.

"They're all whiz kids," she said. 

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