The following column originally was published by ECM Publications
Thanks to students who serve
This is a column for people who want good news about students and schools.
All over Minnesota, students are showing remarkable creativity, ingenuity and energy to help others. Well-developed service-learning programs have huge benefits for students.
Later this month, a national conference will highlight some of the best examples of what organizers call service learning, which involves integrating community service into classroom instruction. They have issued a free invitation for anyone who wants to come for a day.
Here are a few examples of wonderful student service, gathered from district and charters throughout the state, along with research about why this is such a good idea and resources for people who want to learn more.
The strongest service-learning programs combine some form of classroom study with service. Lynn Peterson, executive director of Cologne Academy, a charter school in Cologne, offers a great example. She wrote that the school’s “middle school students are constantly showing they are global citizens as well as global thinkers.” She described this example: “Students viewed videos on what life is like in other countries for underprivileged kids and families. The message was met with motivation and challenge. The students eagerly grabbed hold of the idea to buy goats for families in Africa. They researched and studied how far one goat could go in a family. Their eyes were peeled open that resources are scarce and how we take for granted the simple idea of water or grabbing food out of a refrigerator. It was time to be action orientated. Each classroom in the school would collect quarters and would purchase at least 50 goats. Again, students blew that goal out of the water, over 75 goats were purchased for Africa. The students couldn’t believe their eyes when organizers of We Day sent footage of families receiving the goats. Immediately students were shouting and celebrating and asking when they could do it again.”
Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District Superintendent Joe Gothard wrote: “I’m awed by what our students achieve as they give back to their communities in so many ways. We’re very proud that our students are making a positive difference and having an impact in their school, community and world. Here are three stories about our students who are changemakers.
“#BurnsvilleStrong, an initiative started last year by students and staff at Burnsville High School, is expanding and growing stronger both at the school and across Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191. #BurnsvilleStrong began as a response to the tragic deaths of current and recently graduated students. Since the hashtag first appeared, #BurnsvilleStrong has had major impact in strengthening a sense of community. The group is now focusing on new and expanded ways to unite the community while supporting and encouraging the well-being and success of young people. … (For example) a mentoring program began this fall at Burnsville High School with juniors and seniors mentoring 10th-graders. …
“Shrey Pothini, as a third-grader, started a service club at his elementary school, which quickly attracted nearly 100 students who became involved in many service projects. Their theme was ’Young But Powerful.’ Then Shrey applied for a grant, with the help of his mother, which provided funding for student service clubs to start up in all 10 of our elementary schools. He took it even further by prompting his hometown to create a Service Day Saturday that involved businesses, youth groups, faith groups, families and residents to participate in some sort of service activity and report the results.
“Egeziharya Yilma has had impact on an international level. As a 10th-grader at Burnsville High School last year, she developed Project Pencil to collect school supplies for Ethiopian students. After sharing her idea with Principal Dave Helke, Egeziharya set up a collection site in the main hall of the school and began gathering new and slightly used school supplies including folders, markers, backpacks, erasers and more. She hoped to fill six suitcases, but last summer was able to travel to Ethiopia with seven suitcases. She worked with the Ethiopian Department of Education to distribute the supplies at several schools.”
Hopkins School District Superintendent John Schultz shared a video that the district has produced, highlighting several service projects. These included students working in, learning from and contributing to organizations such as Hennepin County Medical Center or Medtronic. The video also describes how Hopkins students raise money to support education for girls in developing countries. View the video at https://vimeo.com/122993607.
Steven Unowsky, Richfield Public Schools superintendent, told me: “We believe strongly in our students making a positive impact on the world. To this end, we have all students participate in community service as part of their education. We also strongly encourage significant service and formally recognize students serving over 100 hours of service with an award. We believe that community service creates a positive change and improvement in our world.”
Students at the High School for Recording Arts, a charter in St. Paul, research, write and produce YouTube videos on various topics, including staying in school, wearing seat belts, and the value of dual-credit courses. More information is here: http://www.hsra.org.
A 2008 report, available at http://bit.ly/1pnBlWY, found many benefits of service learning, including:
–Fewer discipline problems.
–Increased student attendance.
–Increased graduation rates.
–Better student attitudes toward school, including increased motivation to work hard.
The National Youth Leadership Council, a Minnesota-based group that has promoted service learning since 1983, is hosting a national conference on service learning March 30 to April 2 in Minneapolis. Students and adults will share ideas about service learning. Amy Meuers, interim CEO of NYLC, told me that the group is allowing people to attend the World Education Forum on March 30 free of change to gain a sense of what’s happening around the country and world. More information about the conference is available at www.servicelearningconference.org.
Recently an international group named Ashoka created a network of what it calls “Changemaker schools.” They are helping students learn how to be active, constructive, empathetic people. More information about this network is at http://bit.ly/1mcJR9E.
Finally, What Kids Can Do, online at www.whatkidscando.org, has great examples of students helping improve the world.
Wayne Jennings, an award winning, innovative Minnesota educator reminded me of the lasting value of these programs: “Much of the school curriculum is forgotten, but community service is remembered for a lifetime.”
Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, is a former director and now senior fellow at the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at email@example.com.