A seed grows into a plant, which blooms a flower, then bears a fruit, only to fall onto the ground with another seed, to grow another plant, to bloom another flower, only to bear another fruit and so on…
This circle has become quite evident to me in my work as a Service Learning Coordinator in Grand Rapids Public Schools. A student who cares about a piece of the community, and a teacher who sees that care and is able to empower that feeling to become action, is truly a beautiful flower. Over the past one and a half years in my AmeriCorps position, I have been exposed to many schools. The resources, the teachers, the students, and the communities are all different, but wherever there are students and teachers who communicate their care great things happen.
At Forest Hills Central Middle School, though the students are quite rowdy this time of year, Ms. Sevigny brings them outside in her Natural Expressions class. Her class is one of the only classrooms in the school that connects students with nature on an almost daily basis. Together, she and I are combining the students desire and care for the environment into an awareness project about the watershed in our area. The students are creating an interactive sculpture to be featured at the River City Water Festival to encourage people to make one commitment about one thing they will do to protect the watershed. By combining science curriculum with art and community expression this service-learning project provides an environmental reflection for all those who participate.
My strengths in this position include an ability to plan large projects while still focusing on the details. By working with teachers to plan large school-wide projects, I am able to empower them to connect a bigger community, larger than their classroom, to each other. I have had much success with taking a leadership role for the first large scale project, then a side seat for the next, and finally they have begun to plan them on their own. I cannot fully express how excited this makes me because I feel like I am truly doing my job as a capacity builder.
If you would like to gain some insight into my perspective on planning school-wide service projects, read this article I wrote for Learning to Give: 11 Steps to Plan a School-Wide Service Project.
As all of us AmeriCorps members work hard to finish out the last half of our service year or all the professionals begin a new fiscal year, I encourage everyone to think about their current place in the circle. Is it time for growth, for blossom, for production, or is it time for reflection? By taking a moment to think about this, you may find some insight into how you can be your best at this time.
Hello! This month marks the first month of my second year of AmeriCorps as Service Learning Coordinator for Grand Rapids Public Schools. This past spring as the school year was wrapping up and the trees were budding, so were my ideas. I had such wonderful momentum and passion for what I was doing that if I could, I wanted to continue. Thankfully, the MNA Civic Engagement Program thought that I was still a good fit! Though school has been out of session for the past couple months, I have been putting a lot of effort into preparation and coordination. One important lesson I have learned recently is to value the time in between as much as the destination or end result. Once I started opening myself to the possibility that these small moments could lead to greater potential, I have found unexpected connections, ideas, and outcomes.
This spring there I signed up for a program where I did direct service to better understand my position as Service Learning Coordinator. As VISTAs, we are meant to be focusing on capacity building because it will likely lead to sustainability. Whereas direct service can lead to dependability. Before I could fully understand the big picture of capacity building for service learning in my city, I undertook a direct service opportunity where I was a trained mentor facilitating a service opportunity for 6th graders. I saw this opportunity as a moment in between doing what already exists and I was meant to be doing. At that point, I honestly wasn’t completely sure what I was meant to be doing. The program was several weeks long and required about 10-15 hours of my time per week. Each day a different class of 6th graders would show up and we would do the same scripted activities about the watershed in their area. I learned quickly that the scripted activities were mere guidelines when faced with the challenge of live children. With short attention spans, endless curiosity, and excitement for being outdoors these kids brought new meaning to activities that were originally set out.
I realized the importance of service learning through its captivation of students by offering a change of scenery and hands on activities. On a larger scale, seeing these interactions allowed me to understand in a new light how I might teach teachers to lead service projects. This direct service opportunity also allowed me to introduce myself to 6th grade teachers across the district face to face rather than through email or cold calls. One teacher in particular took my business card eagerly and followed up within two weeks to set up a meeting with her and her principal. This meeting has since turned into a Service-Learning Year Initiative for their school and we have planned service projects and field trips twice a month for the entire school year. As we work on this project together, I emphasize capacity building by empowering the school to do most of the work rather than enabling them to become dependent on my skills. To do this, I clearly laid out roles and responsibilities in our first meeting. I offer my support through creating tools, but it is the expectation that they will use the tools to build the curriculum that fits their own needs. This week I am leading my first all staff meeting where I will introduce concepts and tools of service learning to the teachers.
The small moments that I originally saw only as a stepping stone turned out to be a path I didn’t know existed. So it is important to be present in every moment, big or small. You never know who or what you might find. If you have any questions or comments about my story or materials I created feel free to reach out! My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
This year has been a whirlwind of activity and a wellspring for growth for me and for my service site. Most of my service projects were completed at Grand Rapids Montessori in all the grade levels – elementary, middle, and high school. My biggest accomplishment is tracing the growth of my relationship with this school. The various service projects that I completed were on a large scale, often including more than one classroom or over several weeks. I believe this strategy has had a great impact on this school. The most difficult challenge this year has been gaining an understanding of what my role truly is. As an additional aid to the community I struggled with being a burden rather than an asset. But throughout the year I asserted myself in different ways and have learned how to approach others as a resource. I joined AmeriCorps because I wanted to connect my community to each other and to opportunities. One shining example of my impact happened at my host site on Earth Day when a parent came up to me and told me a story: “So earlier, I asked a 6th grade student who that girl over by the rain cloud is, do you want to know what she said?” she asked. “Well, sure,” I said with a smile. “She said to me, ‘Oh, that’s Miss Megan, she brings us opportunities.’” This was one of those small moments that mean everything.
I am excited to announce that I will be continuing my service in my existing role as Service Learning Coordinator! Now that I know what service learning is and how to accomplish a successful project, I plan on focusing my efforts on capacity and partnership building. As one person, it is impossible for me to work with all 35 of the Grand Rapids Public Schools. So I would like to focus my efforts on identifying the community needs of the nonprofits in the area and work with them to create “service learning packages” that we can connect teachers to. In these packages, I will identify what the organizations daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly needs are and in what capacity can K-12 students fill this need. Jordyn Appel, the last Grand Rapids VISTA created a service learning website for the West Michigan area, which I plan to revisit and deepen its informational impact. To accomplish this, I plan on tapping into the resources and connections of the United Way – my new office space! Perhaps we could even combine our efforts and offer these packages through their resources as well. To get these service learning packages into the school, professional development sessions will need to be held at all the schools. Now whether this will happen this year or the following year, I would like to determine alongside Nellie, the LEAGUE program director, through strategic planning.
Filling out all of these exit surveys has offered me time to provide written reflection of my experiences this year and I am very thankful for my AmeriCorps journey. I am proud to be serving alongside all the MNA VISTAs and programs. I hope to see many of you at the Points of Light Conference on Volunteering and Service and maybe see some of you in my panel presentation entitled “How to Make a Service Year Buzzworthy: The AmeriCorps Collaborative”. In these times of service, I consistently reflect on a quote I heard during my Pre-Service Orientation as it is encouraging and meaningful: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has”.
Hello! This is Megan Lendman serving in Grand Rapids as a Service Learning Coordinator with The LEAGUE. My host site is Grand Rapids Montessori School but I have been asked to work with all Grand Rapids Public Schools, Kindergarten through 12th grade. As some of the other LEAGUE members know, I have been having a difficult time identifying which of the 45 schools and hundreds of nonprofits in Grand Rapids to work with and how deeply I can with such a divided effort. With a big heart, I start every day looking closely at the city I am from and do my best to connect the dots as I see. Throughout these past three months, I have met with over 20 organizations to identify what the need is in this community and how can kids of all ages fill that need. Capacity building is the core concept I hope will resonate throughout all my efforts as I work with these organizations and teachers to do this work out of their own interest and efforts, but that is far from easy.
November 10th is the day that I had my very first service learning project. For Veteran’s day at Grand Rapids Montessori, I partnered with the Heart of West Michigan United Way (HWMUW) to facilitate a card making project for veterans and a discussion with a veteran in the classroom. Having a veteran open up with the kids made the whole project more meaningful. HWMUW invited the media to come and document the experience and to advertise for their 2-1-1 informational campaign that can help veteran’s find resources. If you haven’t worked with the media yet, this is my suggestion: be sure you know what the main focus is. There were 4 media teams that showed up which changed the entire atmosphere among the group activity. Only one of the media outlets even MENTIONED the school and the project. If I would have known that was the case, I would have asked them to conduct their interviews outside of the classroom. The kids were definitely disappointed to not find their classroom on any of the news stations and I was disappointed their attention was so divided during the project. Overall, the kids were opened up to Veteran's day in a way they have never been before. I definitely think they will be thinking of it in the future! Check out more pictures from the event at this link: https://goo.gl/photos/ySCQrqMcX3Xp8jko6
Learning my role, identifying the needs of the community, and understanding the educational system are my biggest challenges thus far. Getting closer with my community, seeing different teachers educational styles, being around kids all the time, and planning real events in my community are all activities that are cultivating an inspiration, productivity, and motivation to dive deeper into Grand Rapids. Some big events to look out for in Grand Rapids are as follows: a very large Read ‘n Give campaign, a collaborative environmental stewardship art piece I will create and children will facilitate during the River City Water Festival, a Global Youth Service Day that will involve a beautification project at In the Image with student volunteers from Central Michigan University and GRPS, and an exhibition featuring service-learning projects as my VISTA Year Initiative.
If anyone wants to connect with me, I always love to host people in Grand Rapids or discuss projects via the phone. I am wishing you all the best!
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!