Tyler Augst here again, checking in from the Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District (EUPISD) in Sault Ste. Marie. The boats are moving again, the snow has melted, and spring is finally here! Which means I am in the home stretch of my service year.
My time as the Service Learning Coordinator has driven home the importance of reflection, both in the service learning process as well as my professional life. Now is an exceptionally ripe time for reflection at my host site because it is the final year of a service learning focused VISTA at the EUPISD. The ISD was selected as a host site for MNA’s next cohort of VISTAs, but my successor will be focusing on building the capacity for the Eastern Upper Peninsula’s college access initiatives. With that in mind, I wanted to use this space to share one of my favorite VISTA experiences and some thoughts on the future of service learning in the Eastern Upper Peninsula.
In February, I had the chance to arrange for nine Sault Ste. Marie youth to provide their voice to Sault Ste. Marie’s proposal to be considered for the Michigan Main Street Program. (The Main Street Program is an initiative of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority that assists communities with historic commercial district revitalization, like in Lansing’s Old Town.) The nine students got to travel to Lansing with the Sault Ste. Marie Main Street Committee. This committee is made up of local government, business, nonprofit, education, and community leaders. When the group arrived in Lansing the students got to take tour of the capitol building (so many selfies!). The tour ended with a chance for the students to meet their State Representative, Lee Chatfield, and State Senator, Wayne Schmidt. After the tour the entire group presented downtown Sault Ste. Marie to the Michigan Main Street Program. The youth gave compelling testimonies about their hometown, including their service learning projects in the community. Thanks in part to these impassioned youth voices, Sault Ste. Marie was selected for the Main Street Program and efforts are already underway to bring about positive change and improve Michigan’s Original Main Street.
Looking ahead, I feel confident in the future of service learning in our communities, even in the absence of a VISTA dedicated to the issue. Things I have observed at the local, state, and national levels have lead me to this rosy outlook for the philanthropic education of our youth. At the local level, the communities and the schools of the Eastern Upper Peninsula continue to surprise me with the scope and depth of experiential learning that our teachers provide. Many of these efforts were sparked (and supported) by the efforts of previous VISTAs, MNA, and The LEAGUE. These sparks have grown into yearly projects and in turn ignited an interest in service learning with other educators. At the state level, there are exciting plans underway for the education system. Michigan has a plan to be a national leader in education (Top 10 in 10 Years). This plan includes a large focus on building connections between the schools and local community partners to maximize learning and success (sounds like service learning to me!). Finally, at the national level the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed in 2015 and now being implemented in the states, is designed to shift the focus from standardized test scores to the success and development of the whole child, including philanthropic development.
The next few months are going to be a blur of wrapping up the school year, planning for fall and the next VISTA, job hunting, and taking in the glory of the UP in summer.
Each blog post is written by one of our program's VISTAs!