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Lessons in Service Learning


Recent news articles have suggested that the today's U.S. schoolchildren represent one of the most socially active generations in history. And the outpouring of aid from classrooms to Katrina victims, tsunami victims, and others seems to bear that out. So we asked members of the Education World Teacher Team to tell us about their students' community-service attitudes and activities.

"I would not be at all surprised if this were shown to be the most socially active generation," Bernie Poole told Education World." Awareness is one important reason why.

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"In recent years, "we've seen a marked increase of media capable of bringing to children's attention instant and detailed news of current events around the world. Many schools now incorporate such news into their social studies curriculum. Many radio and TV shows aimed at school-age children also incorporate such news into their programming.

"The danger exists, of course, that media overkill might result in these children becoming desensitized to other people's misfortune" Poole noted, "but I don't think so. Better that children be exposed to the state of their world than that they be blissfully unaware of it.

"Children don't need to be rocket scientists to understand that much of what is going on around the world directly affects their own present and future happiness," Poole concluded. "Teachers and others whom children respect -- parents, pop stars, pastors, media pundits -- remind children often that they are stewards of the earth on which we live, that they are to some degree responsible for those less fortunate than themselves, and that they hold the future of the planet in their hands."


"I have worked at two different schools in economically diverse parts of the same town, so I've had two different views of this," said Diane Mentzer.

"When the tsunami hit, I was working in a school in a very high socio-economic part of town. One student (a second grader) and her mother approached the staff and asked if they could do a fundraiser for the victims of the tsunami. Everyone readily agreed and a collection was taken. Every day, the girl and her mother collected and counted the money. A local pizza parlor encouraged contributions by donating a pizza party to the class that collected the most money. The school of 450 students raised more than $3000 in two weeks.

"That school also collects food for the food pantry and for food baskets at Thanksgiving. First graders collect socks and underwear for a local homeless shelter. The students set a goal and make posters recording their collection numbers, which they put up all over the school. Those students also give morning announcements telling others about their collection. Every year, they exceed their goal.

"I am now in a school in which 85 percent of students receive 'free and reduced lunch,' Mentzer said. "I know the teachers here talked to their students about the hurricanes, and then there was a collection. In this school of more than 530 students, only a little more than $500 was collected. (That included staff contributions.) As you can see, the outcome was substantially different from what happened in the other part of town.

"That doesn't mean that these students don't care, though," Mentzer pointed out. "Recently, I heard from Scholastic Publishers about an opportunity to help the hurricane victims that didn't cost anything. All I had to do was download some papers from the Scholastic Web site, copy them, do the lesson with my students, and then mail the papers back to Scholastic. My only out-of-pocket expense was the mailing, which cost less than $10.

"What Scholastic did," Mentzer explained, "was team with Habitat for Humanity to provide 100 children's book for each houses built by Habitat. The papers I downloaded were a bookplate and stationary designed to be put in the books before they were given to the families. Students were asked to decorate and personalize the bookplates and to complete on the stationary a statement that began 'My wish for your new home is....'

"After discussing with students in grades 1-5 the devastation caused by the hurricanes, I told them that I had a way they could help the children affected by the hurricanes without it costing them any money -- and that we were going to do it in class. They were very excited; many said they had wanted to do something before, but didn't know how or have the money to do much. They worked very hard on both the bookplates and letters -- they were still talking about it the next week. It meant a lot to them to be able to help in that small way. Doing something for others probably meant more to these kids than it did to the students at the school that collected a lot of money, because it was much more personal.

"When I discussed the project with my students," Mentzer concluded, "many had seen on the Today show that morning the actual houses the books would be donated to being built. That really helped them relate to what they were doing. It also surprised me. I didn't realize so many of the students watched the news in the morning. You just never know what goes on in your students' homes!"


"Students, faculty, and staff at Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle School for Innovation raised $1,420 between September 6 and 9 for Katrina Relief: Operation Dunbar Cares," Rebecca Martin told Education World. "During the three-day fundraiser, the students raised money to help those in the Beauregard Parish area of DeRidder, Louisiana, purchase school uniforms, supplies, and more. The money was sent to BeauCARE Educational and Recreational Center, which is a United Way Agency in DeRidder.

"Dunbar students also participated in a drive to collect personal items and toiletries to deliver to the Gulf coast region," Martin added. "Math teacher Rita Moore worked with her neighborhood to load trucks with water and staples to help with the relief effort. Dunbar's student government association joined her in her efforts by collecting and supplying those personal items.

"I was able to get a couple of students involved in community service in a unique way," Camille Napier told Education World. "The girls -- I'll call them Trina and Stephanie -were sophomores, best friends, and very unruly students. They sassed me, never did homework, and, when they were in attendance, made the classroom as unpleasant as possible.

"I spoke with our special-education teacher and asked if she would allow Stephanie and Trina to work with her classes of severely disabled students two days a week (but not the same days). I then approached the girls with a deal -- they could avoid punishment (and my class) for a couple of days a week, if they volunteered. Eager to feel that they were "getting away with something," the girls accepted. Each helped disabled students with writing or drawing, or simply with social interaction, two days a week and came to my class three days a week.

"Stephanie and Trina really enjoyed the experience," Napier said. "They gained confidence and became more mature and appreciative of what they could do as non-disabled students. I was able to give them genuine positive feedback, which improved our relationship -- and they no longer disrupted my class. When they were in my class, they listened more and cooperated more -- even making up work from the days they missed! Stephanie, who had once been a rough and tumble -- even scary -- girl, developed a sweetness, and spoke lovingly of her "kids" in the special-ed class. She even talked about working as a special-ed teacher one day.

"I moved away at the end of that year," Napier noted, "so I'm not sure what ultimately happened to the girls, but I know they were enriched by the experience -- and the disabled children were too!"


"This year, Newberry Middle School's 7th graders are working on a CiviConnections project," said Cossondra George. "This yearlong service-learning project, sponsored by the National Council for Social Studies, has many components, but our main focus is to have students find ways they can improve their community. The grant for the project was written by myself and two 7th grade social studies teachers, and the project will involve all our 7th grade social studies and math students. The ultimate goal is to have students create a marketing tool that will allow them to pitch their town and community to small businesses or business professionals who might want to relocate here. Eventually, we would like to have both a marketing CD and a Web site that our local economic development commission could use.

Students set off to clean up Michigan’s Hamilton Lake area.

"Another part of the CiviConnections project involved having students work to clean up Hamilton Lake natural area, which is located just outside of town. The students worked in conjunction with our local soil conservation district to accomplish that.

Rubber gloves are the fashion item of the day.

"My students are very excited about finding ways to improve their own community," George noted. "They are researching the history of the area and its economic growth through the years, and searching for ways to secure a prosperous economic future. In order to accomplish those goals, they have done much research, met community leaders, and visited our local historical society.

"I think students today are community service oriented if we teach them to be," George said. "We have to guide them to find ways they can accomplish that, but they are enthusiastic and proud to be a part of change."

"Our students have been doing community service projects for several years," Mary Jackson noted. "At the beginning of the year, all the students, from kindergarten through fifth grade, choose an appropriate project that interests them and then carry it out on their own until the end of the year. Kids have cleaned up local parks and beaches, made toys for dogs at the SPCA, raised money for victims of Hurricane Katrina, and made recycling containers for monofilament line for anglers. They've read to the elderly at nursing homes, done chores for disabled neighbors, collected clothes for the homeless, served food at shelters, created posters for a variety of causes, and developed a Web site to promote water conservation."


"Young students are very aware of current social issues -- from the war in Iraq to Katrina," said Midge Liggan. "That is due, in part, to socially active parents, media coverage, and school environment. Each year at our elementary school, the student government promotes yearlong projects. All those projects take place outside of the classroom experience.

"At Thanksgiving, food products are collected and distributed to families in need of assistance. During the winter holiday, students decorate the "glove" tree with socks, gloves, mittens, caps, and scarves. In addition, special projects come up during the year -- usually initiated by a parent. Those projects have included collecting gently used books for students attending a school in Africa whose library was destroyed by fire; collecting school supplies for students in a small Alabama town destroyed by Katrina, and -- our latest project -- building a Habitat for Humanity House for a victim of the recent hurricanes. All those projects instill an active concern for others and a sense of accomplishment for the individual student."

Photos courtesy of Cossondra George.

Who Are They?

The Education World Teacher Team includes more than 30 dedicated and knowledgeable education professionals who have volunteered to contribute to occasional articles that draw on their varied expertise and experience. The following educators contributed to this article:

* Cossondra George, middle level math and technology teacher, Freedom to Learn Super Coach, Newberry Middle School, Newberry, Michigan

* Mary Jackson, teacher, Garrison-Jones Elementary Gifted, Dunedin, Florida

* Midge Liggan, library media and technology specialist/teacher trainer, Mary Munford Model Elementary, Richmond, Virginia

* Rebecca Martin, middle school social studies teacher, Paul Lawrence Dunbar Middle School for Innovation, Lynchburg, Virginia

* Diane Mentzer, library media specialist and K-5 technology coordinator, Paramount Elementary School, Hagerstown Maryland

* Camille Napier, English teacher, Natick High School, Natick, Massachusetts

* Bernie Poole, associate professor of education and instructional technology, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, Johnstown, Pennsylvania

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
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