My New Opportunity in Education

Last October an opportunity came my way that is perfect for me. I took over as Coordinator of my school’s Service-Learning Program. The program was set up at the time for juniors and seniors to go into our community at various agencies and volunteer once per week during school time, with accountability in the form of written reports and reflections. Although my predecessor did a great job of “getting the ball rolling”, there were apparent (to me) flaws with the current system. After the first semester I changed the format of this program.

Beginning with this year’s juniors, all students must have one credit in service-learning, incorporate their experiences into their evolving portfolios at the end of each year, and develop a senior project (sort of like a thesis, only with a more hands-on approach).

My job also entails attending conferences and service-learning fairs at local colleges. I designed and developed two projects as and added feature to this program whereby undergraduate students will come into our school and work with me on the service-learning opportunities for a given class they are taking. My projects were recognized and accepted by local colleges and universities for this semester.

Service-Learning is a vital component in the school. The vision is to incorporate it into the curriculuar structure of each course taught in our school. My job is to provide education and opportunities to facilitate the implementation of this concept.

I do this by video-taping presentations and making them available to our classroom teachers. Next year I will be looking at all subject curriculum maps and design service-learning opportunities for each curricular area.

Beginning with this new semester I adjusted and redesigned the program so that all juniors and seniors have a service-learning class 5 times in the course of every two weeks (Mondays and Wednesdays and alternating Fridays). Begining in Februrary they will spend the Wednesday class time serving internships with a chosen organization. Since last week I have had agency representatives from our community coming in and giving presentations on their organizations. Students have had to write a short summary of each presentation and have been required to ask questions, reflect on the quality of the presenation, comment on the organization’s value to our community, and on whether or not they would be interested in serving an internship at that particular agency, justifying their reasons. Agencies coming to our class include
HEAL Utah, Hawkwatch International, The Children’s Center, Shundahai Network, Boys and Girls Club, Children of Ethiopia Education Fund, Leukemia Society, Wasatch Community Gardens, Alzheimers Association, and others. Last semester our students served internships at some of these agencies.

It has been interesting just in the two weeks of the new class to see the wheels turning with my students.
Some students began the semester with a set mind on what they wanted to do when they go back out into the field. That is changing, however, as they hear different organizations describe their programs.

Just yesterday, for example, Shundahai Network came in to describe the work it does for the indigeneous community with respect to nuclear waste storage and nuclear testing. Some of my students immediately signed up to work with them. It was interesting to read their papers:
I thought I knew what I wanted to do, but now I don’t know!
I want to serve an internship here because I am proud of my heritage and want to work with an organziation that promotes that.
I want to work with this group and the one I worked with last semseter!

I could instantly see that my vision of and development of this program is having instant results. When I was designing the class I came up with these goals:

Students will learn and develop through active participation in thoughtfully organized service experiences in the classroom and in the field….
– that meet actual community needs
– that are coordinated in collaboration with the school and community
– that are integrated into each student’s academic curriculum
– that provide structured time for studnets to think, talk, and write about what they did and said during the service project
– that provide students with opportunities to use newly acquired academic skills and knowledge in real life, situations in their own communities
– that enhance what is taught in the school by extending student learning beyond the classroom
– that help to foster the development of a sense of caring for others

When my students submitted their first semester finals to me, it was great to read comments such as, “At first I was mad that I was being ‘forced’ to volunteer. But that changed once I began working with those kids!”

I feel fortunate to have been in the right place and the right time when this position became available at my school. Everyone else thinks so too because we all agree “it’s right up my alley”.

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