So what exactly is service learning? Simply put, service learning is an opportunity for students to meet the needs of a community. Students plan, develop and participate in projects that lend a hand to others. And an integral part of the curriculum is compiling thoughts and feelings into a reflection journal upon project completion.
My first experience with service learning came in the spring of 2000 when I volunteered to develop an after school program for at-risk students in Amarillo. That experience helped me realize that students get more out of helping others than they do by learning how to help others. As opposed to traditional "sit and get" classroom instruction, service learning provides students with the three "R's" (i.e., relevance, rigor and relationships).
What a unique opportunity to teach beyond my social studies classes! And now I've had the same opportunity to teach service learning at Brundrett Middle School to my seventh and eighth graders. Jumping in with both feet, they've brainstormed ideas for a myriad of projects, and in the first eight weeks of class, the results speak for themselves. A visit to a nursing home in Rockport, raising "Pennies for Patients," priming/painting Farley boats, and pulling weeds in the BMS Reading Garden… all projects that help teach our students to appreciate the importance of community.
The nursing home trip was amazing, and our kids went with confi- dence and compassion. One resident remarked, "It's just so nice to hear young voices," and likewise, student reflection journals revealed, "I want to go back… I saw how happy it made the residents feel."
Similarly, BMS service learning students raised $650 for "Pennies for Patients," benefiting patients with leukemia and lymphoma (Thank you Jerri Franco for your help in organizing this project.).
Today, the kids are working on soda tab collections, and according to their own research, the more tabs they collect, the more assistance cancer patient families receive.
So, the first eight weeks of service learning have been a blessing for me and for our students. We are truly building a comprehensive service learning program in Port Aransas (thanks to Cheryl Park's and Kate Prejean's initial efforts at the high school). By the time our students have graduated, they will have ongoing opportunities to better understand that a full education means more than just books and lessons. And watching my students over the past eight weeks has convinced me more than ever… service is learning.
Kristi Longanecker is the social studies and service learning teacher at Brundrett Middle School.