ORLANDO, Fla. -

There were wide eyes and big smiles at Fern Creek Elementary this year as students opened Christmas presents ranging from footballs to clothing.  All 360 students received gifts courtesy of Lake Highland Preparatory School. 

The gifts were just one of the charitable activities Lake Highland has helped Fern Creek with this year.

Lake Highland prides itself on its community service. The students usually volunteer with any number of charitable organizations. But this year they’ve decided to focus their charity on Fern Creek Elementary. 

The two schools are only a few miles apart in distance but worlds away when it comes to resources. Lake Highland is one of Orlando’s premier private schools, Fern Creek on the other hand has a high number of disadvantaged students. The two schools have had a close relationship for  5 or 6 years, but this year that bond has grown even closer.

Student volunteers helped stock the food pantry and they also held a Halloween costume drive back in October. 

While these are all worthwhile activities, it’s what a few Lake Highland Community Service students do twice a week that may reap the biggest reward.

You see, twice a week 20-30 students spend the afternoon tutoring in the after school program. It’s a tutoring program that has taken on a mentoring role. 

Senior Sara Kropp, Lake Highland Executive Service Officer, says she considers the two sister schools at this point. “We decided to take them on and adopt them,” she adds “really dive in to our relationship with them and really encompass them and focus all our community service here.”

Kropp says everyone involved is growing from the experience. “It’s fun when that lightbulb goes off,” she says. “They are really hard working and they really love it.”

It seems the extra attention is making a difference. Fern Creek Dean of Students, Shanita Highland says grades are improving.

“It’s not their teacher, it’s not a peer. It’s someone who is closer to their age group. Here are high school kids coming to give their time.”