Last Wednesday, an extraordinary community project took place in Lansing. As part of Global Youth Service Day, AmeriCorps members and staff helped with MNA’s GYSD Signature Project, led by AmeriCorps VISTA member Sheryl Zukowski. The beautification project at Gardner Middle School was conceived and coordinated by youth of the Newcomers Soccer Team from Lansing’s Refugee Development Center. Additional middle-school volunteers came from the Gardner student community. MSU students, teachers, and other adults acted as mentors to youth painter teams.
Gardner is a public magnet school in which 79% of students qualify for food-related services. The State of Michigan has identified Gardner as a Focus school, meaning that Gardner students and teachers are working hard to close its achievement gap. RDC serves the needs of newly-arrived refugees in Mid-Michigan, providing ESOL classes, youth programs, and community outreach to a refugee community estimated to be as large as 13,000 people.
This project helped Gardner students to reach the goals of the school’s leadership program, The Leader in Me, by fulfilling requirements for service and for creation of a dynamic work environment. This project is part of their drive to help Gardner qualify as a “Lighthouse School,” a designation that would allow Gardner to serve as a model of leadership to other schools on a national level.
The world of youth service has begun to recognize the value of programs that encourage students to develop multiple intelligences and learning paths. The Newcomers program already did this by combining soccer with language arts. Now, with help from MNA, they have added service into the mix. A similar national program, America Scores, reports that combining soccer, language arts, and service has resulted in solid gains in testing for its participants.
On April 13, volunteers helped to lead teams of students as they painted detailed murals in the school hallways. The murals depict flags from around the world. The kids were proud of their work, and felt such a sense of accomplishment! They were pointing out their work to each other with pride.
The event was particularly rewarding due to the strong presence of the youth voice. Not only youth voice, but a multitude of voices speaking a babel of languages. Kids who are learning English for the first time as newly arrived refugees are less likely to be brought in on service projects and leadership roles. But RDC and Gardner kids are leading the way!
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!