comments

School Talk: Students serve and learn at the same time

By: Vicki Barber
-A +A
How many shingles does it take for the roof? Where shall we plant these trees? Which families need food from the food bank? Service-Learning is a hands-on teaching and learning strategy that reaches far beyond the normal school setting. It incorporates what goes on in the classroom in a meaningful way. Math facts turn into math accomplishments as students use the lessons learned from a textbook to figure out how many shingles are needed for the roof of a house they’re restoring for an elderly couple. The resultant new roof gives pleasure to the couple, and the students have used their learned skills of thinking, ingenuity, and creativity to do something for someone in the community. The history of Service-Learning goes back over 100 years to the Cooperative Education Movement founded in 1903. In 2003, President Bush created the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation. We continue the Service-Learning concept today. Projects range from restoring houses, to replanting trees in an area devastated by fire, to helping the elderly learn computer skills, to working in a preschool, or providing food through a food bank. The projects are as varied as the community has needs. In El Dorado County Service-Learning can be found in Hands for Hope. As their website (hands4hopeyouth.org) describes, Hands for Hope is “a non-profit, non-denominational, youth driven outreach organization.” Their mission is to “grow the next generation of socially responsible citizens by engaging youth in community outreach.” Hands for Hope, founded by Jennifer Bassett, is led by a Youth Advisory Council mentored by a Parent Advisory Council. The initial target population for this service-learning group was homeless and low-income adults and youth. The students helped by arranging for meals, clothing, blankets, and bedding for those in need. Then they began branching out to creating care packages for soldiers, designing fundraisers, and speaking to various groups who voiced an interest in their work. The projects are growing as the minds of students recognize needs and discover ways in which they can be of assistance. What do students learn? Leadership, organization, collaboration, teamwork and how to use their skills to complete a desired project. They also discover the profound value of their contributions to the overall well-being of their community. In addition, they use those math skills to figure out how much money it will take to buy 100 turkeys with all the fixings for families in a shelter, how long it will take to prepare the meals, and how they will schedule the deliveries. Students use their writing skills to create a report for the Advisory Council and an article for the newspaper. They may use their reading skills to find out why we have turkey on Thanksgiving or to read ads to find out the best bargains for their project. Service-Learning works. It engages teachers, parents, volunteers, and, most of all, our youth into areas where learning becomes real. Learning is much more than just a math test. Learning takes on true meaning when students see someone’s face light up as a result of a roof being repaired or receiving a much needed holiday dinner. Vicki L. Barber has been with the El Dorado County Office of Education for 26 years. In 1994, she was elected as the Superintendent of Schools.