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At your service

Jeff Clemetson, Sierra Sun

To those involved in the service learning “movement,” the future of education has more to do with helping communities than hacking computers.

“Our ultimate vision is to see every teacher using service learning in their classrooms and all the different community agencies supporting it and working together,” said Abby Hutchison, coordinator of the Tahoe-Truckee Service Learning Partnership (TTSLP).

Service learning combines classroom curriculum with civic-minded projects to answer community needs. The TTSLP connects education and community groups under one umbrella to help teachers organize service learning projects for students.

Some of the groups already involved in the partnership include Sierra Watershed Education, Caring About Kids, Boys and Girls Club, TGIF Counseling, AmeriCorps and the Tahoe-Truckee Community Foundation.

“This is every aspect of the community and meaningful projects that students can get involved in – anywhere from drug, alcohol, tobacco education, health education to bilingual education,” Hutchison said. “The whole service learning idea is to build stronger communities and enhance student learning.”

Service learning is not just community service. At a service learning seminar for Tahoe-Truckee teachers and community groups on Sept. 20, national service learning consultant Catherine Berger Kaye said “community service is a dead term because it conjures up images of court ordered punishments or graduation requirements.”

“Service learning is a teaching methodology, not a curriculum,” she said. In the service learning methodology, teachers incorporate a community need into pre-existing curriculum. For example, a canned food drive could augment a section on nutrition, she said.

Service learning is not a new concept to Tahoe-Truckee schools. Groups like the Sierra Watershed Education Partnership have implemented community-minded projects for students for years, and teachers have used events like Truckee River Day to teach students about biology and the environment.

The TTSLP was created to organize all the different groups together to make them more accessible to teachers who want to create service learning projects for their students. It is part of a model for education that has gained momentum since the late ’80s, Berger Kaye said.

“It really does go back a long ways,” said Sarah Green, a TTSLP coordinator who also works with Sierra Watershed. “But now it is more like a movement because teachers want to do community service and service learning is taking it that extra step to experience the community and learn from the experience.”

At Truckee Elementary, fifth grade teachers Renee Arington and Sara Kuttel are preparing for a service learning project involving recycling. Using a book from a service learning book list compiled by Berger Kaye called “The Wartville Wizard,” Kuttel said her class will expand its current recycling program to include more curriculum-based education. The fifth graders will also take trips to the dump and recycling centers as well as share the experience with younger students.

“We’re excited about it,” Kuttel said. “It’s a good place to start for us.”

At Sierra High School in Truckee, service learning has been a part of the curriculum since 1986 and involvement in a service learning program has been a graduation requirement since 1993, said Principal Jane Loomis.

Some of the service learning projects include recycling programs, literacy programs, dropout prevention and teen pregnancy education.

To implement service learning, the TTSLP’s structure includes students as well as teachers and community organizations. Under the TTSLP, schools will have a “site advocate,” a teacher who will promote service learning projects and provide information on different community organizations and community needs. There will also be a “youth team” at schools to organize students, Hutchison said.

Funding for the TTSLP comes from grants from the Corporation for National Service through groups like CalServe and Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA). Hutchison and Green receive living allowances while setting up the program, but the funding will be short lived, they said.

“I’m going to work on setting up the infrastructure because VISTAs are supposed to keep the programs they’re working on sustainable,” Hutchison said. “After I leave, hopefully, they won’t need to replace me because teachers will have signed on.”

For more information on the Tahoe-Truckee Service Learning Partnership, call 587-1509.


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