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Challenges

Page history last edited by Jon Raimon 11 years, 3 months ago

 

 Challenges to Service in a School Setting

 

It is hard to sustain a school-based service program. I have had the good fortune to coordinate the service program at LACS for the last fourteen years (http://www.icsd.k12.ny.us/lacs/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=48&Itemid=87).  This focus on service has become a central part of our school’s ethos.  When seniors have their final meeting, a majority of them discuss service as being a central aspect of their education and, I dare say, their lives.  This is only because teachers, parents / caregivers, students, community members, and the principals (Dave Lehman and now Joe Greenberg) at LACS support the program.  Teachers are flexible, knowing that there will be times when small groups of students may miss class for a service project or that we may plan to halt school for a day to allow students to present service related material, often with a social justice slant.  Parents / caregivers are courageous, for they allow us to take their children into tough situations, from juvenile corrections facilities (read prison for teens) to food pantries where the teens befriend adults from various backgrounds.  Students are openhearted and generous, offering their time and passion year after year, despite having many other obligations and pressures.  Community members are open-minded, allowing students to help out, make mistakes, intern, and test out new ideas at their agencies.  Principals are committed, making sure the program has funds for a coordinator with a malleable schedule (unfortunately, most of the funds are siphoned from time that would go to our humanities classes).  I state all this not to suggest the LACS model is perfect; far from it.  Rather, it is to underscore just how may stakeholders there are – all of whom need to be on board – and how each group has the potential to raise hurdles. Then, of course, there are obstacles of time, money, and transportation.  I will now turn to what I consider to be the main obstacles to service in the schools where I spent my sabbatic. 

 

School Ethos

 

All the schools I spent time in -- Ithaca High, DeWitt, and Boynton -- clearly value community involvement and the concomitant heightening of empathycitizenship, and all the other values and skills I have discussed on this website (see Making Service Meaningful for a full list).  They have an array of clubs, class projects, honor societies, food drives and more related to these issues.  The problem is that it is often difficult for a school to be flexible enough to allow for expansive, deep forms of service.  It is one thing to have a small service requirement or encourage service links to a handful of class projects, but it is another for students, parents, teachers and administrators to shift how they view learning so as to incorporate service into the fabric and general feel of the school.  While at school we move swiftly, test often, and frequently find ourselves with tunnel vision, seeing only the next assignment or unit we need to complete.  This harried pace and focus on covering a great deal of material in the classroom (all understandable realities) are not conducive to meaningful service learning.

 

The best illustration of this inflexibility and tunnel vision occurred during the forum / day of awareness on relationship abuse by the AVID 10 students.  While the day was surely a success in that it raised a degree of awareness and boosted the confidence of the students carrying out the project, the overall level of participation was not impressive.  Very few teachers signed up to bring their classes to the workshops and only a smattering of students who had lunch or study halls attended on their own.  There were certainly bureaucratic and logistical reasons for this poor participation, such as looming AP Exams, having the forum in late spring, and so forth.  Yet, in the end, it is the current ethos of the school regarding this kind of service work that led to less than stellar participation.  What is currently considered real learning -- the learning that will be tested by the state and help get one into college -- happens in the classroom, not in the wider community.  It is an understandable point of view, for it is the model we are used to. 

 

Yet I believe the approach the AVID classes began this year (see Service Projects From Scratch) can serve as a model for slowly shifting this ethos toward one that values deep service work and all that flows from the work (See Making Service Meaningful).  If a school wishes to make this shift, teachers and administrators need to actively encourage students to step outside of the normal view of learning and schooling.  This often means finding ways to shift our classrooms, assignments and schedules to allow for service initiatives. But the reality is that teachers are already stretched; it is hard enough simply supporting one’s students.  This means that it falls primarily to the administrators to support those teachers and students who take the risk of trying out service projects.  In practical terms, this includes:

 

A) Fostering an atmosphere where it okay to take time to focus on a service, even if that means taking time away from typical classroom instruction. 

 

B) Offering release time from other responsibilities to deal with the nuts and bolts of service work.

 

C) Vocally and publically supporting service efforts so that the whole school community knows the work is valued.

 

D) Being open to new avenues for students to display their knowledge and skills, such as service projects related to their academics and passions.  

 

This support from administrators will spur teachers and students to take risks as they build meaningful service projects, such as Ms. DeCicco’s work with her Global Studies class (see Tying Service to Academics) and AVID’s forum on relationship abuse (see Service Projects from Scratch).  I should add that this past year it was clear that administrators did value these and other projects; now if they wish to see this as the norm, they will need to actively encourage new service undertakings throughout the curriculum.    

 

Time

 

With that said, teachers need more than exhortations and flexible schedules.  These measures will only go so far, for time is the most significant stricture on teachers fostering service.  Teachers are just too busy to create a meaningful service element in their classes without a great deal of support. My sabbatic suggests that having a teacher as a coordinator of service is what allows teachers to push their students to engage in service projects.  A coordinator is able to support teachers with the community contacts, leg work, trouble shooting, crafting of service related assignments, and reflection that allow for rich service learning.  During my sabbatic, it was clear that the teachers did not have time to research community contacts (which often requires dozens of calls and emails over weeks, sometimes months), find ways to integrate service into specific assignments (What are reasonable expectations for a service project?), and just generally know how to guide service discussions with students.  Most of the teachers I worked with this past year expressed gratitude that someone was there to support them and even spur them on to interweave service into their classes.  Here are some of the teachers’ thoughts about having this kind of support:  

 

I had never seen this group of students so engaged and excited as I did when Jon would come and work on their community service project. The project did more than I expected: it was actually able to pull together a group that was having a hard time bonding. In their final portfolios, most of them wrote that the service project was by far their favorite part of their whole sophomore year, and was the most meaningful thing they've done in school for a while. I was excited about their enthusiasm at the end of the year to continue with service work next year. They discussed orally and in writing how they now see how service can be fun and rewarding and have the motivation to do more in the future. Even just hearing them say that was worth it! 

 

-         Kim Scholl, English & AVID Teacher at Ithaca High

 

As the coordinator of the AVID program at the high school, I have wanted to incorporate service projects into the AVID curriculum at IHS.  The AVID national organization encourages teachers to use service projects because they are an ideal way to teach the four pillars of the AVID curriculum (reading, writing, inquiry and collaboration).  In addition, we have done True Colors activities with Lee Ginenthal, which revealed that   that many of the AVID students are hands on learners.  Service projects provide real world learning experiences for students, and they complement the learning style of many students in the AVID classes.

 

Jon Raimon spoke to all of the AVID classes (seven classes in grades 9-12) about community service/service learning.  Jon's interactive presentation was a great introduction for our students.  His presentation incorporated LACS student voices and helped students understand the benefits and opportunities of service.  Jon inspired several AVID classes to take on service projects this year, and he also provided essential support and guidance for AVID teachers in developing service projects. 

 

I have a personal interest in service learning. When I worked in international education, I did conference presentations and published an article on global service learning.  As a teacher, I have wanted to do service learning projects, but I have never been able to find the time to do all of the legwork to set up a project. Jon met with me several times and corresponded with me by e-mail to help me develop an idea for a project related to the proposed MLK walk. Then, he took the lead in contacting city officials and community members to help me turn my idea for a project into reality. During the spring semester, Carol Kammen (historian) and Leslyn Clairborne-McBean (county legislator) came to my classes to provide an overview of the background and progress on the MLK walk.  Jon also worked with the school librarian to identify relevant readings for my class. I have been on maternity leave, and I am planning to implement the project with my AVID 12 class during the coming school year. Jon has also offered to help me do more planning related to this project over the summer.  Without Jon's help, I would not be able to do a service project.  He has spent countless hours helping me and the other AVID teachers to plan and implement projects. 

 

-         Andrea Kiely, AVID Teacher/Coordinator at Ithaca High

 

This year government teachers at Ithaca High School collaborated with Jon Raimon to make the community service requirement portion of Participation in Government more meaningful for students. Jon came to our classes to facilitate discussions designed to help students think about how they viewed community service. This gave students a forum to discuss the value of community service, whether they supported the requirement or thought it was a bad idea. Through his extensive community connections, Jon offered students many possible placements for community service. He also offered extra assistance to students who were having a hard time finding service assignments. I know that a number of students contacted him directly to get help finalizing their placements. Jon also gave teachers many more resources that we can tap into to help students find good volunteer placements in the future. Jon offered us ideas on how to improve community service experience for our students. We are incorporating his suggestions into the development of our community service program. Our program has improved based on Jon’s input and will continue to get better because of it.

 

-         Sara Shenk, Social Studies Teacher at Ithaca High

 

During the school year last year I had several opportunities to work with and get support from Jon.  I was the facilitator of a group of about 20 students at our school called the Safe School Ambassadors, or SSA for short.  The group was focused on creating a bully free climate at the school and making their community safe from harassment of all kinds, but last year the students had ideas about expanding and clarifying their scope.  They did not want to be seen as a community of snitches, but as a group that could improve and solidify the community.  To that end, I approached Jon for help.

 

The students in SSA benefited from several discussions that Jon facilitated.  He and I prepared for the discussions by coming up with concrete goals and assessing what was attainable on the restrictive timeline with which we were working.  He was very good at developing Socratic style questions that would lead to deep and interesting conversations and encouraged the students to develop ideas and approaches of their own.  We ran out of time last school year to do any major service learning projects, none the less, the students commented often that the discussions were enlightening and looked forward to them.  We wrapped up the school year with a trip to Cornell’s high ropes course, where I got the opportunity to stand back and watch this group of very diverse students work together as a supportive and thoughtful team.  Jon was played a crucial role in helping the students grow through questioning and introspection.

 

-          Keith Harrington, Boynton Middle School, Grade 8 U.S. History

 

Jon Raimon worked with me and my two AVID classes during the 2009-2010 school year at Ithaca High School.  While we, as a class, developed our notions of community service and service projects, Mr. Raimon's presence and contributions were invaluable.  He visited our classes several times throughout the semester, brought us valuable information about what service opportunities there are in Ithaca, and worked closely with me in developing meaningful and effective lesson plans for the students.  I can confidently say the AVID classes and I benefited tremendously from Mr. Raimon's time and energy. We were so lucky to have worked with him during his sabbatical, and we look forward to working with him as much as possible even now that he is back in the classroom.

 

-         Caline Khavarani, Math and AVID Teacher, Ithaca High School

 

Jon spent a week with my three economics classes and managed to captivate this difficult audience of 2nd-semester seniors.  By mixing reading, journaling, role playing, and discussion, Jon appealed to a variety of learning styles.  Jon began his week with my class by sharing reflections on poverty from a wide variety of sources including novelists and prominent thinkers of various backgrounds and political persuasions.  Jon helped to strengthen our classroom community as well as students' understanding of poverty by asking students to share their own reflections on poverty.  He arranged for a very effective guest presenter, providing simulations, readings, concrete information and a chance for discussion on current poverty issues affecting our area.  From Jon's work with my class students gained not only a greater understanding of issues surrounding poverty but also a critical perspective on service and it's role in alleviating poverty or affecting social change, as well as a deeper connection to each other and our local community.  His skill in facilitating and organizing this poverty unit allowed students from a variety of backgrounds to feel safe in sharing with and learning from each other.  Jon helped to make our discussion of poverty personal for the students, and thereby created a deeper and more memorable learning experience. 

 

-         Sofi Gluck, Social Studies Teacher, Ithaca High School

 

Jon shared his depth of knowledge and his extensive experience related to community service with eighth grade students at Boynton Middle School during social studies classes.  Our common goal was to expose students to the importance of community service and local opportunities by integrating lessons about community service into curricular units in a U.S. history course.  In one lesson, students explored the question, “What is community service?”  Next, students generated ideas about possible ways to respond to community issues that they identified as concerns.  Jon also provided students with a list of specific community service options and guidelines for participating in community service.  In another lesson, students were asked to apply the ideas they had learned about relief, recovery, and reform during the Great Depression to local community agencies today.  After students matched descriptions of various purposes with agency names, they introduced the class to these agencies and explained whether the community agency was focused more on relief, recovery, or reform.

While students had fun participating in these meaningful activities, they increased their understanding of community service and ways to engage with local community agencies to make a difference.  The lessons Jon led helped to make the history curriculum more relevant to the present and encouraged students to contribute to their community.  The seeds were planted for students to engage in community service throughout their lives, thanks to Jon.

 

-         Cindy Kramer, Social Studies Teacher, Boynton Middle School

 

Working with Jon Raimon was extremely rewarding for both my students and myself.  We collaborated in a Ninth Grade Global Honors Humanities course on a service project that was attached to a global human rights issue.  Students had a three-fold opportunity.  They were able to research a topic of their choice, read a piece of literature connected to their topic, and fulfill a service component.  Students choose to focus their service either locally or globally.  We had a culminating project event called, Global Gallery Night, where students showcased all of their hard work to families, friends, teachers, administrators and community members.  

 

The whole process working with Jon was a key to our success as a class.  I found it to be helpful to look to him as a coordinator due to his many community contacts and experience with service learning.  He reached out to my students through email so that they could solidify their service experiences.  Jon’s expectations and communications about the service component were always clear. 

 

I believe strongly in service learning and hope that it finds a place at Ithaca High School someday.  Student reflections were very positive and noted that while it was an intense amount of work, the personal reward of the service component enhanced whom they were as individuals.  It was evident throughout the process that it is essential to have a vital community member/coordinator such as Jon to facilitate the process.  I feel very luck to have worked with Jon while on his sabbatical and look forward to working with him again. 

 

-      Kristina DeCicco, Social Studies Teacher, Ithaca High School  

 

The point of these testimonials is not to boost my low self-esteem, but to emphasize how vital it is to have a coordinator assist teachers as they help their students experience the power of service learning.   

 

Equity – One of the challenges of service is that of sustaining equity. On the negative side, how are students with limited time and resources supposed to squeeze in service, let alone find transportation to a placement?  While presenting to Ithaca High Government classes, many students overtly or subtly indicated that service was just a nuisance or even against their political values of independence.  Yet when I spoke to them individually, often on the phone when they were trying to finish the nine hour requirement, it usually became clear that they had family obligations or a job (often to support their families) that made fitting in service very difficult.  I was generally able to help them find a brief, worthwhile placement that fit their values.

 

On the positive side, service can augment equity.  At its best, service affords all students an opportunity to feel trusted and powerful, which increases their connection to their school and communities.  In short, service work builds genuine citizenship. Further, when groups from different backgrounds work together on service efforts, stereotypes and biases often erode, as least with on-going reflection.  Students who feel more at ease and accepted in their schools will be far more likely to succeed.  This is not a small matter and many seniors I spoke with in the Government classes stated that service would be an excellent vehicle for breaking down barriers, especially those related to social class.  Clearly, this is connected to matters of social justice and combating bias

  

Some seniors in the Government classes believed that one solution to the matter of inequity, particularly for students with family and work obligations, was to carve out time in the school day for service.  Some thought this should be done via classes, some through putting aside time each month when the whole school worked on various projects, some through some sort of extended homerooms.  This idea fits with both the Service Projects From Scratch and Tying Service to Academics approaches.  Moreover, it provides a possible avenue for the aforementioned work on bias and stereotypes, on  breaking down real barriers.  However, this is only true to the extent that the classes or groups are heterogeneous in terms of social class, ethnicity, and special needs.  For more on this topic, see Directions for Service at Ithaca High.

 

Lastly, there is research that suggests that service learning is an effective tool in preventing students from dropping out.  Given that we have many vulnerable groups in our district and that our district has a stated goal of eliminating race and class as predictors of success, we should heed this research.  For an introduction to this research, follow this link:  http://www.nylc.org/pages-resourcecenter-downloads-Service_Learning_and_Academic_Achievement_Research_Summary?emoid=14:917&si=1&null=1283781306484

 

 

Funds

 

One challenge for service is, quite simply, cash.  The good news is that there are grants available for many service related projects.  IPEI – Ithaca Public Education Initiative – is an amazing resource for these funds (http://www.ipei.org/).  But there are other sources for funds as well.  The Clynes grants through Ithaca College are a good source of funds and a great way to link up with I.C. faculty (http://www.ithaca.edu/hs/depts/education/partnership/).  Cornell’s Public Service Center also has grants (http://www.psc.cornell.edu/). Collaboration with Cornell students is part of this process, but that can be a wonderful symbiotic relationship.  However, those grants do take a good of planning, often with the Cornell students taking the lead instead of the ICSD students.  There are also national websites that constantly suggest possible grants, ranging from $100 to $10,000.  The best website that I have found for grants is Learn & Serve America; they will email available grants on a regular basis (http://www.learnandserve.gov/), but also look at the Resources page for more helpful websites.  Lastly, you can certainly look to our own national resource in town, the Park Foundation.  This would be for larger projects that fit with the Park Foundation’s mission (http://www.parkfoundation.org/program_areas.php). 

 

While there is surely grant money for service projects, it is another matter for our district to allocate funds for some teachers to have at least part of their jobs be dedicated to service learning.  Budgets are tight.  Nonetheless, my sabbatic, my time in the community coordinating service work, and the professional research suggest that such an allocation of resources would greatly deepen students’ sense of power and engender positive feelings about school & learning, as well as furthering matters of equity.  In the end, service enhances learning of all sorts -- academic, personal, and societal. 

 

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