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
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!