A Reflection on How Service Learning Can Change the World (or at least one classroom)

The night before our Service Learning Project, I hardly slept. Ok fine, the month before our Service Learning Project, I hardly slept.

I was embarking on adventure that would later become the single most important day in my life as an educator. But before that adventure, that life-changing experience, I worried as any person would who doesn’t like to let go of control. I was, after all, taking a group of students earning English credit recovery (let’s just say that English wasn’t their favorite subject throughout high school) to an elementary school in our district to teach 5th and 6th grade students how to be better role models for the younger kids in their school. Like a true optimist, I had faith in these kids and their ability to earn their English credit for the semester in a hands-on way.

It all started when I introduced my students to Mike Smith. I began showing them videos of his speeches, and episodes of The Harbor T.V. Mike had spoken at my former school district and I thought that he would be a great tool to reach my new students. (Check him out here: http://mikesmithlive.com/.) I told them a little bit about Mike’s background and how he started his career and they were hooked.

“We should bring him here to speak!” they shouted out and I sarcastically thought, “Oh yeah, that will be super easy and cheap!”

But I’m not one to give up on a dream, especially someone else’s dream, so on whim, I put it out there to my administration instantly assuming that my idea would be turned down. Not because they aren’t great – because as you’ll soon see, they are – but because I was a brand new teacher in the building whose eyes were bigger than my proverbial stomach. My curriculum specialist contacted me soon after this proposal and told me it was a go. I could hardly believe it! I was so thrilled to tell the kids. Not only would he come to do an assembly with our upperclassmen, but he would also hold a private workshop with my class of students.

Throughout the planning of Mike’s visit, I asked my students how they would feel about spending their semester focusing something called a Service Learning Project which I explained to them as a way to earn ELA credit by doing hands-on work to better our school or community. They loved the idea and I took it upon myself to focus our one-on-one workshop with Mike Smith having them seek his advice.

The visit was awesome and the kids were obviously ecstatic about their experience with our speaker.

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My students decided that the project they wanted to complete would be to choose a nearby elementary school to visit and spend a half day conducting a workshop with 5th and 6th grade students on tolerance and how to be good role models for the younger students in their school.
My students pitched their idea to our principal who welcomed it with open arms and also provided important feedback. To this day, I can’t thank my administration enough for them taking a chance on all of my wild ideas.

From that point on, my students worked in committees ranging from media communication, to materials design, to activities, to fundraising. They practiced speaking by conducting interviews, introducing concepts, and reciprocal teaching. They learned about fundraising and how if you want fun extras like coordinating Tshirts, you have to earn them but hustling and talking to business owners. They learned what it was to fail when they didn’t earn enough money to purchase said Tshirts but they hopped right back on board. They learned patience by practicing reciprocal teaching and conducting the activities that they would complete with the elementary students, with my freshmen classes.  Through this activity, they automatically earned more respect for me! Bonus!

We had all of our ducks in a row, but leading up to the event, I hardly slept. I feared our bus wouldn’t show up. I feared that one of my students would accidentally say something inappropriate in front of the young children. I feared my students might now show up that day. I feared the elementary school may not be prepared for us. I feared my technology would fail. I feared my presenters would forget their lines. I feared, as any good planner does, that something out of my control would happen and what the kids worked so hard on all semester would come unraveled.

But you know what…it didn’t.

On the day of our Service Learning Project, my students were the best possible versions of themselves. They became teachers. They became learners. They adapted their lessons. They worked out the kinks in the technology. They remembered their lines. They were dealt some tough hands by some of their students…and they overcame them.

And when it was over, I’d never been more proud to teacher in my life. I was sure to tell them this through BIG tears followed by an even bigger group hug. We experienced something together that I certainly will never forget. I know they learned skills through our project that I hope they won’t soon forget either.

 

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