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Service Projects Help Students
Find Their Voices


Voice of ExperienceEducator Brenda Dyck describes a service project that her middle school students participated in. She reflects on what might happen if she connected her students' passion with the prescribed curriculum. Included: Links to additional articles that shed light on the value of service learning.

I've discovered there is a powerful, untapped resource simmering within my school walls. It's not a new brand of teacher, a hotshot program, or a new learning initiative. This potent resource smolders deep within the very students I teach. Most of the time I miss it, distracted by the academic and behavioral irritations that plague my daily involvement with students. I get a hint of it during those rare inspirational moments when a service challenge is put before them. A recent service learning project reminded me how our students' youthful enthusiasm, idealism, and energy is able to move mountains.


The project began with a simple assembly where a challenge was presented. Students were introduced to a local organization called The Cave. The Cave serves the needs of troubled young people in our community who, for a wide variety of reasons, find themselves without a home or some of life's most basic amenities. Students in the school were presented with the idea of supporting The Cave's efforts to keep kids off the streets.

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The project -- which we called Street Cents -- challenged students throughout the school to join forces to collect money for The Cave. For five consecutive days students brought in money from home. Teachers made hurried trips to the bank to convert hundreds of dollars into 50-penny rolls. We chose to convert the money to pennies because of the visual impact a very large collection of pennies might have on our students.

Money came in right up until the last moment, as students scrounged around in their lockers, looking for an extra penny or quarter to add to their class's collection.

The week culminated in another assembly on Friday -- "Street Cents Day." At that assembly, each class lined up in the gym with its collection of penny rolls at the head of the line. Line leaders passed penny rolls down their lines so each student in the class could start forming part of their penny line. As upbeat music filled the air, penny rolls were unwrapped and classmates worked shoulder to shoulder to form lines of pennies. One of our more spirited teachers announced in DJ style the penny progress as each class line of pennies was formed and the class that collected the most pennies was determined.

At the end we all stood back, amazed, at the view before us. Forty-five thousand pennies were lined up, side by side on the floor, creating a visual image that everybody in that room will carry with them for the rest of their lives!

Almost as surprising was the number of students who stuck around for the clean up! Sweeping up 45,000 pennies was no small job, and we had volunteers who not only swept but searched the floor for wayward pennies. Many even willingly offered to help re-roll the pennies so they could be taken back to the bank.


The Street Cents project had taken what our students bring to school everyday -- their enthusiasm, energy, and desire to make a difference -- and used it in a productive way. I wonder what would happen if we viewed these service challenges as part of our students' education instead of an addition to it? Could the same meaningful, life-changing learning happen on a daily basis if we connected our students' passion to our program? If so, then making a difference could become the fuel that drives our daily curriculum instead of just a seasonal activity.


Giving Teens Good Press
Read about teens who are changing their world.

Service Learning in Action Across the Grades
An Education World article explains ways that service projects enhance classroom programs.

Make a Difference Day
A unique program that inspires and rewards volunteers.

Do Something
A nationwide network of young people who take action to change the world around them.

Getting Kids to 'Do Something'!
An Education World article about the Do Something program.

Earth Inc. -- A Service-Learning Lesson Plan
An Education World article focuses on the Social Studies Education Consortium, which offers a template for a model service project.

Is Community Service a Waste of Time?
Education World talks to the experts about what it takes to create a real service-learning project -- if that's possible.

Community Service: Opportunity or Exploitation?
What about mandatory community service programs in schools? Are they a wonderful opportunity or are they "slave labor" for students?

Brenda Dyck teaches at Master's Academy and College in Calgary, Alberta (Canada). In addition to teaching sixth grade math, Brenda works with her staff in the area of technology integration. Her "Electronic Thread" column is a regular feature in the National Middle School Association's Journal, Middle Ground. Brenda is a teacher-editor for Midlink magazine.

Article by Brenda Dyck
Education World®
Copyright © 2005 Education World

Updated 01/25/2005