Friday marked our last day of “official” service learning for this fall. In August, the teachers made a deliberate effort to hit the gold standard of service learning when we asked ourselves, “How might we get students involved in active projects that link to the community, serve others, and center around an authentic theme?” We wanted to connect to the community, and also work toward building a middle school program that connected more deeply to challenges in our society– so that students would have a cognitive and experiential understanding of why their help makes a difference.
Here is a glimpse of what a visitor might have seen as the groups finished their projects. In the DaVinci studio, the Snack Stand group was sitting before a mock up of their new merchandising table. They have worked to plan a new endeavor at PDS: a healthy snack stand to vend at home basketball games this winter. Their heated discussion was in naming the enterprise. Highway to Health Snack Stand was the front runner when I visited.
The Outdoors group had removed baskets full of weeds from our native plant garden. We had returned to school in August and felt daunted by the summer overgrowth. This band of tuggers removed much of the overgrowth this fall. Our school also benefitted by having benches repainted. They extended their outdoor work to Locust Grove for two of their days– helping the groundskeeper of the historic Samuel Morse home prepare for winter. On Friday, the group also visited a section of the rail trail and picked up trash. They’ve done this twice since school began.
In another room, small groups of students were editing movies. This group visited the local retirement home, the Manor at Woodside, and interviewed the residents (after playing an ice-breaking few rounds of bingo). The focus of their oral history project was comparing what life had been like for a 70-90 year old resident when they were of middle school age to what their lives are like. Students filmed the residents speaking, and also researched the past era. They mixed in some music, file photos and subtitles to enhance the presentation. The group will schedule a return visit to the Manor soon, to share the movies.
The early childhood group was off campus, visiting their third preschool. During their weeks together, they gained an understanding of the preschool experience by visiting students at three locations: a Headstart, the Jewish Community Center, and our own PDS program. They also used their understanding of childhood to design a play area for our Maker Faire.
The early literacy group had a similar process, learning about early childhood by visiting a Headstart program and our own PDS program. Their work focused on the importance of reading to very young kids, and how programs support literacy in families. They wrote a blog to explore and advocate for reading programs. On this last day, they hosted volunteers from the local branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) who are active in the Leading to Reading endeavor. Headed by a retired school principal, its members do book drives and create book packs for children of all ages. One member led our students in a storytelling workshop– each student now has a story they can perfect and share with a group of younger students. The students then helped assemble book packs that will be distributed to kids their age. After the AAUW volunteers left, the students began to work on promotional materials for a campaign to collect new books here at PDS that can be donated to Learning to Reading. They hope that by timing their efforts in synch with our upcoming PDS book fair, families will buy and contribute a book to families that don’t have many in their homes.
The seeds of future projects and future connections to the community were sown during these past weeks of service learning. Using our experience, the teachers and I will be analyzing and brainstorming to determine not only what students learned this year, but also what the adults learned. That will be the basis for how we begin to form a strong service learning sequence for next fall– keeping the values and learning commitments of PDS firmly in mind.