Service Learning Keeps Ohio Students Engaged; Striving to Reach Full Potential
NEA’s Priority Schools featured “Bringing Learning to Life: Service-learning for Educators at All Levels” during a webinar on March 4.
“Bringing Learning to Life” comes out of Columbus, Ohio and represents a unique partnership between the Columbus Education Association (CEA) and the Ohio State University’s (OSU) College of Education and Human Ecology. Together, and through the help of a $550,000 grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service, they have implemented several successful service-learning projects.
This isn’t your typical service-learning design.
OSU offers graduate-level course work to K-12 educators on how to implement service-learning projects that help students see the relationship between their learning and real-world experiences. This blend has strengthened students’ engagement with school and their communities. CEA has played a key role in recruiting its members to participate in this project, as well as coordinate mini-grants for educators to buy needed supplies to make their projects possible.
To date, more than 70 educators have taken the OSU course, involving 2,700 students in service-learning projects, and partnering with more than 55 community organizations. In nearly three years, the work has touched 17,000 community residents.
The webinar provided insight from three Beechcroft High School students, their teacher, and the local education association on how service learning has affected their learning, teaching, and profession.
Beechcroft students Elijah Frazier, 9th grade; Mekiah Sharp, 9th grade; and Hailee Cannady, 12th grade, represented their school’s community garden project during the webinar. The garden features the first wheel chair accessible community flower and vegetable garden in the area.
Students expressed how they’ve increased their skillset in public speaking through their service-learning project. According to Frazier, service learning has allowed him to gain extra confidence in communicating with fellow classmates and adults.
“I’ve been able to gain experience in public speaking and getting through stage fright by building my communication skills,” said Frazier.
Service learning has changed attitudes, too.
“I used to see high school as a joke,” said Sharp, adding that her experience with service learning has changed her attitude toward high school because she’s now better able to communicate with peers and community members.
Students also shared recommendations with educators who are interested in starting their own service-learning projects. For example, Cannady expressed to participants to, “Think outside the box. Students want to help and be a part of service-learning projects.”
According to their English teacher, Tori Washington, students have inserted themselves in their service-learning projects in ways that make sense to them and what they might be interested in doing in the future. One of her students now wants to explore a career in public speaking.
“Trust your students. If you allow them to explore you’ll get the results you want,” said Washington, explaining that educators often don’t have the time to get to know their students because there are so many requirements and mandates. “This project gives me the opportunity to make decisions about the students in my classroom. To let them know they matter inside of this classroom.”
Washington went on to say that, “Current assessments don’t always give us the opportunity to see what students really know. The project and the ideas we have generated have provided a unique platform for assessment. I have the ability to see what students are learning in alternative ways.”
Rhonda Johnson, president of CEA, credits the success of “Bringing Service to Life” to multiple factors, such as the union partnering with higher learning institutions and collaborating with them on professional development. Other factors include, aligning community-service requirements with classroom learning; letting students analyze community needs and research which organization would be good partners; getting buy-in from the administration; and celebrating the work.
Celebrating the work and student success is important. Educators and their unions are often blamed for broken education systems when in reality they’re the solution.
“In Columbus we had a community event with students, teachers, parents, and the community organizations that partnered with
students,” said Johnson. “It was important for us to acknowledge each other and to show how public schools and our union can work for student success.”
Another critical factor to the project’s success: educators.
“This project represents the best of who we are as a union of accomplished professionals who truly make a difference in the lives of students – students who need to see their classroom learning is relevant to real life, who need to have a place of leadership to assume in this world, and whose horizons and sense of worth [are broadened by educators] so every student sees themselves as college or career bound.”