Service learning program planned for schools
When Hallie Smith first reported to the school board on Sierra High School, she said things like “way cool” and “um like, you know.”
An outgoing 17-year-old girl, Hallie was the only one to volunteer to be a student representative for her school and she figured speaking in front of Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District board members once a month would be easy.
But, it wasn’t.
“That first meeting was awful,” Hallie said. “I’m 17, from California and I talk like a valley girl I guess. As a teenager that’s the way you talk.”
When she watched herself on television later that week she was embarrassed by her nervousness and the way she spoke in front of board members, an adult audience and a TV camera.
When SHS Principal Jane Loomis told her about Toastmasters, a community club dedicated to improving public speaking skills, she agreed it would be a good idea and joined the Wednesday morning gatherings and became Toastmasters’ youngest member.
“I think it’s going to be really helpful for me. The last board meeting went much better,” Hallie said. “They (the club members) are all really supportive and involved in the community. They really made me feel welcome. Hopefully, if I keep going every week I’ll be able to talk properly and improve my English ability.”
Hallie has incorporated her participation in Toastmasters and public speaking into her service learning project, a requirement to graduate from SHS. She plans to begin speaking in front of middle school girls on teen issues to further her project in upcoming months.
Other community activists and educators are hailing service learning as a key way to engage youth and would like to see the model built into the curriculum at all schools in the district.
“It’s not just involvement in community service, it’s bigger than that,” said Sarah Green, coordinator of the local service learning planning effort. “It’s really tying it back into the classroom and the curriculum standards as well. It can cover any service activity and be tied into any academic project. That’s the cool thing.”
Often, said Loomis, community service is more punitive for students and not tied back into academics.
“You need to tie the two together,” Loomis said.
With the help of funding by the Nevada Service Learning Partnership for initiating a service learning program, an advisory committee has been formed by the two main partners, the school district and the Truckee-Tahoe Children’s Collaborative. Other partners include Caring About Kids, a local mentoring organization, the Sierra Watershed Education Partnership Program and the Boys and Girls Club.
“It’s out there, it’s being done already, but we want to help develop it,” Green said.
The approach is hands-on and the method used would encourage students to to learn and develop through active participation in organized service that meets the needs of the community. The participation would be coordinated with the schools and would be integrated into the students’ academic curriculum. The service learning model also provides structured time for the students to reflect on the service experience.
The preliminary model that is currently being used includes afterschool programs, community mentoring, youth educators, and the watershed environment and science program (SWEPP).
Many are eager to embrace the service learning model because it helps foster civic responsibility and keep youth engaged in their community.
“Service learning is a great strategy for youth development,” TTUSD Community and Youth Development Coordinator Laurie Martin said. “Research shows that kids involved in service learning tend not to be involved in activities such as drug and alcohol abuse. I’m happy to see this become more widely involved in this community.”
As the advisory committee discusses the initiative, committee members are seeking input from educators, community members and youth.
The service learning advisory committee is also currently hiring a VISTA volunteer to help coordinate the school/community collaboration effort for project development.
For information, call Jen Stark at Caring About Kids, 582-9970 or Sarah Green, 550-0819.
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