Greetings from the frontier! Things are progressing slowly but surely here in the Eastern Upper Peninsula when it comes to Service Learning. There are beacons of Service Learning in the area, scattered about like the lighthouses that dot the shorelines of the lakes. However, they are few and far between, and I often find myself feeling like a ship battered about in the rough waters that November brings. As a first year Service Learning Coordinator, these challenges are to be expected.
But all is not hopeless! If there were no problems, nothing would progress. One of the challenges is the miniscule nature of some of the schools I work with. I think of one district (yes, district) in particular that has 14 students, which is smaller than many single classrooms in other schools. Nevertheless, the small number of students allows me to work with teachers and engage the entire school in projects, which, for this school, includes improvement of the school grounds and a magnificent greenhouse for growing fresh produce throughout the winter. On the other hand, working within schools that are in towns with larger populations provides the opportunity to help the community at large. For example, in December, a teacher I am working with will be engaging his students about poverty, which will culminate in preparing food at the local Salvation Army.
Which leads me to another interesting challenge; teachers are scared of engaging in Service Learning projects. I think many of them equate service projects with donning their superhero capes and saving the world. While this is certainly an option, I am trying to impress upon them the idea that service can be small. More specifically, I’m trying to show them the idea of what I call passive versus active service projects. That is, active projects might include going to the Salvation Army and preparing food; literally and figuratively getting their hands into it. Passive projects, conversely, are things like teaching about recycling and starting to collect markers for Crayola’s ColorCycle initiative.
Finally, more obstacles await as I endeavor on my Year Initiative, for which I will be addressing the exposure gap in foreign languages in this remote part of the state. I plan to implement small measures throughout the year for classes and schools in the 17 districts I work with, which will culminate in a World Language Day sometime in the spring. It is also my goal to bring either a guest Arabic or Chinese teacher to some of the schools in the hopes of jumpstarting a language program in one (or both!) of those languages. I am hopeful, however, that the problems presented in all the aforementioned scenarios allow me to come up with creative answers that will increase the sustainability of Service Learning here in the Eastern Upper Peninsula.
Each blog post is written by one of our program's VISTAs!