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One School's Journey: Toward a Continuum of Service-Learning


service learningCreating a cohesive series of service-learning opportunities that are truly embedded in the curriculum can be a daunting task. Recently, a team of educators from Maplewood Richmond Heights High School (MHS) attended CWI’s Summer Institute on Service-Learning to support their efforts to create a continuum of service-learning experiences, within their K-12 school system. In this article MHS faculty provide insights on their impressive recent accomplishments.

Works Starts with Summer
At Maplewood Richmond Heights High School (MRH) in St. Louis, Missouri, every school year starts with innovative professional development work over the summer--for teachers and students.

There are only 350 students at MRH High School, so we’re able to provide a private school experience in a public school. “We’re kind of the Google of public schools,” said teacher Dave Grossman, “but with a 59% poverty demographic.” Last year our school was named an International Center for Leadership in Education Model School and an Apple Distinguished School. We are a one-to-one laptop school with an innovative technology integration program. At the high school we offer Cornerstone, a social justice class built on the district’s four cornerstones: leadership; stewardship; citizenship; and scholarship. This year we added a Semester of Service (SoS) class. The 7-12 experience now includes formal leadership, sustainability, entrepreneurship, social justice, and Semester of Service classes before students move to the apprenticeship program and serve as mentors or interns.

In June we took 5 kids to Camp Snowball in Tucson to present on our district’s sustainability and systems thinking progress. Four of these students would be the student mentors in each semester’s Semester of Service (SoS) section. As part of the Camp Snowball Common Core Cohort, we planned to focus on systems thinking application to our social justice and SoS classes this year.

service learningPlanning for Progress
Last summer, in July, MHS’s instructional principal, Dr. Deann Myers, with the teacher of the two courses, Patrice Bryan, attended CWI’s Summer WEST Institute on Service-Learning and Sustainability in Los Angeles. There we forged community connections that are developing into service-learning partnerships as the year progresses. We were accompanied to the Institute by MHS science teacher Ben Nims.

After conversations with teachers from all over the country, we decided to focus on hunger for our Semester of Service inquiry. We’d design a system for our classes to better collaborate across content areas on a global and local hunger study AND design a new or improved system for the district’s existing food pantry program—two systems that need finessing.

On September 11 National Day of Service, we worked at Operation Food Search to kick off our hunger inquiry. The food bank distributes food to 150,000 people each month--half of which are children. Operation Food Search’s Backpack Program has provided insight into our own Weekends on Wheels hunger intervention system.

State Farm is there! We were very excited to hear we’d received a State Farm service-learning grant! This semester we’ve tried to think of as many unique learning experiences related to hunger as possible. We designed the learning sequence so that students could move "flexibly through multiple representations of the hunger issue. Students watched a variety of documentaries, read a range of non-fiction texts, explored social entrepreneurship that combats hunger, and got out into the community to investigate food insecurity. Two of our students have been able to participate in adult district-level planning meetings and assume authentic district level roles in the entire pantry process.

service learningFood Makes a Difference
As a district with 3 on-site gardens, chicken coops, and bee hives, sustainability is just part of the culture. As our pantry expands, we’ll consider ways to incorporate our gardens into the program. We’re currently working on the Bread Project, an effort to get our pantry families 2 loaves of whole grain bread per week donated through a checkout system at the local grocer.

To spark ideas on how to use our gardens and the aquaculture, Semester of Service took a trip to Soulard Farmer’s Market in September. There, we talked to Woody, the Market Master, about the history and management of the market and the distribution and exchange of natural foods. We perused the wide variety of affordable fresh foods and thought about how we could partner or co-op with our local farmer’s market.

After we explored the market, we ventured a couple blocks over to the Soulard Community Garden Co-op. Head gardener Jay told us about how members of the community oversee the growth of the plants to use for their own pleasure and sustenance. We learned how a community garden can make a big impact on improving nutrition in the community.

service learningWorking with the Heifer Project
Heifer Ranch, located in Perryville, Arkansas, was a great adventure for the group. In mid-October for World Food Day and International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, we accompanied students from Webster University to the ranch for four days to experience what poverty is like in different regions of the world and how organizations like Heifer take the Millennium Goals seriously. Students gave up their electronics to make the experience authentic. They were trained in Heifer’s Cornerstones and lived without heat, food access, or running water for the duration of the trip.

To prepare for the trip, we studied the ethics of hunger intervention and developed a perspective on global hunger responsibility. At Heifer’s Real World Poverty Simulation Camp, we were divided into “families” and assigned to different villages—Zambia, Tibet, Appalachia--to live the poverty experience of that region. We performed village duties, gardened, made bricks, milked goats, made cheese, built a fire, bartered for and cooked meals, and negotiated with other villages for resources. SoS students had rich conversations with Webster college students and professors from different parts of the world. Heifer staff posed simulations--Zambia had a "flood—and students thought critically through potential outcomes and interventions. SoS students attended Webster University’s final documentary presentations on the Millennium Goals in November.


service learningA Partner for Systems Thinking
Semester of Service is hosting a year-long speaker series on different approaches to hunger intervention. Brian DeSmet of Slow Food St. Louis talked about questioning food origins and eating more locally-grown nutritious foods. LuAnn Oros, Hunger and Homelessness Community Consultant for Washington University, talked to us about food deserts and combating food scarcity. Teresa Keller, Executive Director of Round the World with US, spoke to us about developing partnerships with schools around the globe that have similar values. (Teresa was also a participant at CWI’s Summer WEST Institute.) After touring our district, she suggested we partner with a like-minded community in Kenya called Nyumbani. Their systems thinking expertise has created an entirely sustainable community.

This semester, the Missouri History Museum held two Food Summits--conferences related to food insecurity, food justice, and food deserts. Both were free! At the first, keynote speaker actor Wendell Pierce of The Wire and Treme discussed his new line of low-income grocery stores in New Orleans’ food deserts. At the second, food historian Michael Twitty talked about the history of African American food--from slavery to Southern soul food. In another session we viewed Trouble the Water, the Sundance documentary winner about post-Katrina resource distribution and bureaucracy.

The Danforth Plant Science Center hosted a conversation about global food security in October. The Ugandan Prime Minister talked about agricultural policy and best practices. The event was taped for Higher Education Channel.

service learningDecreasing Food Insecurity
Last year, the district’s Weekends on Wheels program was run from a large closet in the library. Superintendent Karen Hall moved the pantry to an expanded storage room upstairs--approximately 200 square feet of pantry space, equipped with shelving and cabinets on two walls. After its relocation, SoS took the time to organize the supplies in the space. The middle school’s !rst food drive netted over 1500 food items. With much more food and an expanded pantry space, the Weekend on Wheels program is bound to have many perceptibly positive effects on the community this year. We have taken over the distribution system and are currently serving 10 food-insecure MRH families. We are perfecting a sustainable staffing-packing and delivery-system that can be taken over each semester by the new SoS students. Our first high school food drive ends in late December.

The first semester’s culminating project is to: 1) design a sustainable pantry system and menu; 2) design, build, and install a packing table system for the pantry space; and 3) take over the actual packing and distribution of food to 10 families; 4) incorporate the Bread Project into the system. At November’s end, we’ve identi!ed and served 10 families for 3 weekends --a total of 50 people. We hope to expand to 15 families by the end of the year. In December after our food drive, we’ll celebrate with an SoS awards ceremony. Both Semesters of Service will give a final presentation to the school board in the spring and present at our district’s Learning Conference in June.

service-learningThe Conversation Cafe
In October, Semester of Service hosted its first Conversation Cafe on Hunger at Home Wine Kitchen in Maplewood. Semester of Service students presented, re"ecting on all the learning activities they had participated in, including the Heifer trip. 20 hunger experts—public health officials, pantry workers, homelessness community consultants—joined 25 students, board members, and teachers in student facilitated table conversations about how to best alleviate hunger in our community. These conversations led to our culminating plan to improve the Weekends on Wheels pantry system.

Ms. Bryan, SoS teacher, said, “If you really want cafe to work, you have to put some thought into the guest list and some work into the table assignments.” Second Semester’s group will hold another Conversation Café on hunger, this time with local faith leaders—pastors, priests, reverends, ministers—to discuss how we can create a network of food access support in the community. This will include discussion of creating a community “hunger hotline” that can be supported by the network.

service learningTime Out for Teambuilding
To build trust and collaboration skills between Semester of Service and its workshop class, Cornerstone, we all attended Meramec Adventure Ranch’s high-ropes challenge. The course encouraged rational risk taking and thoughtful incremental goal setting. Students swung 40 feet above the ground and learned to control their fear.

With the help of students in Semester of Service, Cornerstone class, and Cornerstone Club, MRH is forming a partnership with a sustainable community in Kenya. We plan to communicate with the students living there and share ideas with them about sustainable living. We’ve set up an asynchronous conversation board with Schoology, a Facebook-like interface, which will allow Nyumbani village and MRH students to communicate. Students will share cultural information, dialogue about sustainable best practices, and develop a global friendship and intercultural competency.

Our first two projects with Nyumbani begin in January. Cornerstone and SoS will see how much clothing we can collect to fill a shipping container. Each piece of donated clothing will include a letter in which the donor tells the significance of that clothing item in their life. We will kick off the project on MLK Day in our official launch of second Semester of Service: Nyumbani. The middle school will help the village build chicken coops. We look forward to an exciting and rewarding journey ahead.

If you are interested in enhancing or developing a school wide approach to service-learning learn more about attending a CWI Summer Institute.

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