Sunday, August 4, 2013

Service-Learning

Three years ago I was asked to teach at a regional branch of Kent State University that is in the same county (Geauga) where I teach full-time at Chardon Middle School. I was thrilled! As I looked toward the end of my middle school teaching career this provided me an opportunity to continue teaching-with a different population. I also felt that perhaps after over thirty years in the classroom I had something to share. Kent's Geauga campus offered a MCED program-Middle Childhood Education. I began on my journey with a textbook Introduction to Middle School that was used by two professors at the Main campus. Those two-Dr. Steve Turner and Dr. Teresa Rishel were so kind to me in the weeks leading up to my first time teaching the course titled Teaching and Learning. I jumped into the materials they provided me and the textbook. It will soon have its third edition and is written by a professor from North Carolina. Her name is Dr. Sara Powell. Not long after I began the process of preparing to teach the course for the first time I decided to e-mail Dr. Powell with a couple questions. To my surprise, she e-mailed me right back and she too was so kind to me just as Dr. Rishel and Dr. Turner had been. As I began teaching that semester my students thought it a little unusual that I was corresponding with Dr. Powell or Sara as I began to call her. One of the things I really liked about her text as I began to use it with my students is that she seamlessly combined theory with practice. Each chapter in her book had stories about real schools, real teachers, and real students. Sara began to ask me questions as well and to my surprise last fall she asked if I would like to be included in the third edition of her text. After I picked myself up off the floor I began to answer the questions she had given me. When my e-mails usually get long I usually say to the recipient-"I hope you're still reading...." The question that relates particularly to this blog and today's post's title is the service projects I had completed with my students. Before I get to that though I should say Dr. Powell surprised me (rather shock really) a third time by asking me last January if I would co-present with her this November at the Association for Middle Level Education's national conference in Minneapolis. Our topic was service-learning and Sara's idea came to her in the middle of the night (get it-middle as in middle school!) The title she envisioned was Learning to Serve, Serving to Learn. I have spent a good many hours this summer drafting my part of the presentation which is to lean heavily on the practical part of service-learning or the kid part. My thoughts have now spilled on to about 20 pages, but I would like to share with you today is my vision for service-learning that I hope happens one day in the not-too-distant future at the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. I believe the story of the 40 heroes of United 93 and the Memorial offer an opportunity to teach young people skills that they can take back to their middle schools and lead other students. I would call this the Flight 93 Academy. I actually wrote a grant for such a project in the spring of 2012, but my principal at the time did not share my vision-he felt the grant did not include enough students. When retirement from my full-time job comes next June I will begin more work on this dream of mine. I can see groups of students from several states spending several days at the Memorial. The completion date of the next phase of construction is 2014 with the Visitors Center. I have been told the center will include a classroom. I love classrooms, but service-learning takes place outside the walls of a classroom. I envision students learning the story of Flight 93's heroes and walking away just as others have done before them and making a decision to go back to their communities and schools to make a difference.

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