I am Tyler Augst and I am two months into my year of AmeriCorps service up here at the Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District in beautiful Sault Ste. Marie, MI. My role is to help bring service learning into K-12 classrooms and build on amazing projects already being done. The Eastern Upper Peninsula ISD is based out of Sault Ste. Marie, MI, but encompasses all 20 school districts in Mackinac, Chippewa, and Luce Counties.
That means a lot of different communities, schools, teachers, and organizations. The last two months have been a whirlwind of introductions. As I have been diving into my new communities one thing has become obvious, the Eastern UP is filled with people and organizations that are committed to helping other Yoopers and making this the most pleasant of peninsulas.
Many of society’s problems cannot be remedied by the efforts of a lone actor or even a group of actors. Our communities face complex problems that require multifaceted solutions. My fellow VISTAs and I live this reality every day through our service. Each of our projects has a great impact on the community, but no one project is going to win the War on Poverty. To accomplish that a diverse set of efforts needs to be brought together to provide holistic solutions. Those holistic solutions require deep relationships and linkages between all stakeholders.
Forming those relationships can be a very challenging task, especially in a modern society like ours where division of labor and competition are the norm. Doing the hard, intersectional work of partnership building is at the heart of a community’s capacity to improve life for everyone. Luckily, there is an awesome tool for laying the foundation for those relationships service learning.
At its core, service learning is a teaching strategy that has students apply the skills they are learning in the classroom in the real world. In application it is so much more. Service learning is a way to encourage students and other community members to work collaboratively to seek innovative solutions to community issues. A service learning project can open up new lines of communication and collaboration in a community.
I had the opportunity to see the fruits of these sorts of connections at Project Backpack in August in Sault Ste. Marie. This was a back to school kick-off event spearheaded by the local United Way, Salvation Army, Department of Health and Human Services, and local students (with help from many others). Each of these organizations had the desire to do something to ease the burden of buying school supplies for low-income families. They could have tried to tackle the challenge alone, but they didn’t. Instead they pooled resources and were able to partner to create a day long outdoor celebration where families could get a backpack full of school supplies, get information about government services, have children fingerprinted, and so much more. By partnering, these stakeholders were able to reach more families and now have a track record of collaboration that they can draw on to tackle the next community issue.
It is those connections that service learning tries to build. Service learning connects education to the other sectors in a community like local nonprofits, businesses, and government. It also builds connections between youth and their communities that will hopefully last a lifetime and ignite a desire in the youth to leverage their talents, time, and treasure to create a better world for all of us. Amazingly, I get to spend this year of service doing whatever I can to make those sorts of connections happen.
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!