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Service Projects from Scratch

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

Beyond Resume Padding: Service Projects From Scratch

 

From my experiences during the sabbatic, it is clear that the most meaningful and often the most complex service learning projects grow directly from deep-seated concerns the students have about their communities and on-going, reflective engagement to address those concerns. If the project derives from a pre-set goal of the teacher, such as to learn about the link between service and poverty in an economics class (see Tying Service to Academics), then a great deal of learning may occur, but students will generally feel less invested than if it were wholly a cause they selected and a related project they created from scratch. Likewise, if the service work does include choice but only involves minimal reflection and analysis, then the student tends to learn less about herself and the community (see Isolated Service Experiences), though there certainly are exceptions, especially for highly self-directed learners. At its worst, this kind of service is seen as a hoop to jump through or a path for padding a resume, both of which breed cynicism. 

 

AVID for Service – One path for Service from Scratch at Ithaca High

 

I had the good fortune of finding a perfect venue for assisting students and teachers in the creation of service projects from scratch. The AVID Program, Advancement Via Individual Determination, aims to support students in the quest to attend college. The students, whose parents have generally not attended college, face a variety of challenges. Many try honors classes, consciously try to create resumes, and compete with the many Ithaca High students who never question that they will attend a solid, even elite college. One element of the national AVID program is service. However, up until this point (the AVID program is now in its fifth year at Ithaca High) service has not generally been integrated into the Ithaca High AVID classes. Clearly, one goal of this leg of the AVID program runs against the heart of this sabbatical, namely, to move beyond resume padding with service. It is common knowledge that students who wish to attend four year colleges bolster their chances by racking up service kudos on their resumes and often write about service experiences in their college application essays. (When I asked Ithaca High seniors why people do service at their school, a majority felt that many, if not most, students initially engage in service to beef up their resumes.) Yet I feel it is a matter of equity to assist the AVID students and those in similar circumstances to pursue service; it allows them to compete in the four year college race that, for better or worse, is a reality, especially in Ithaca. With all that said, the truth is that the students in the AVID classes never seemed to consider resume building, except to the extent that we told them about the fact that colleges now have this expectation. Rather, they acted from a desire to make a difference in their communities and to see what they could achieve as a group. Below I will outline and discuss this process, focusing on one of the AVID classes, though I will also touch on projects the other AVID classes pursued and plan to continue in the coming years. I will include exercises, reflective questions, narratives, and other elements of the yearlong service efforts. Teachers and students may use this as a rough guide for how they might create their own service projects of the “from scratch” variety, especially in the Ithaca High School environment.  Before proceeding, I want to thank the students and teachers in AVID for welcoming a stranger into their midst.  I feel as if I have been adopted into a vibrant, caring, hard working family.

 

Beginning: Entry Points for Service

 

The first step was to introduce the notions of service and community and their possible meanings to each AVID class (there were seven classes). This same sort of introductory activity could be used for any kind of class, from Health to Art to English, though one would include questions and ideas that relate to the particular discipline.

 

  • The First Four Words: One possibly first step is to simply have students offer the first four words that come to their minds when they hear various words or phrases related to service and community. Ask the students to draw a circle divided into four quadrants and then, without thinking much, write a word in each quadrant in reaction to the word or phrase they hear. The teacher should do this, too. The goal is simply to see what kinds of gut feelings and ideas the group has about service, from viewing it as linked to punishment & the legal system to believing community service to be just for “those ‘good’ kids.” Here are some words & phrases to use: service, community, community service, school, & school and service. The teacher should say the word or phrase aloud and write it on the board. The teacher will model the exercise by rapidly putting down four words of her own, one in each quadrant. Then it is helpful to zip around the room and hear the words, though with no commentary. Then, afterwards, one may ask if anyone sees patterns and themes. This serves simply as a way to get ideas flowing about the meaning of service and community. It is also a good way for students from varied backgrounds to begin to learn about different values about service, community, and school. It is a helpful baby-step toward building empathy.

 

  • “Where Do You Stand?”:Another entry point is doing the exercise “Where Do You Stand?” I did this with dozens of classes in the district during the sabbatic. The facilitator or teacher (depending on the class it can be helpful to have the teacher participate) says a statement and then the group falls out along a continuum, from strongly agree to strongly disagree. The facilitator calls on students to share their views; if others students find the information or point of view convincing, they might shift where they stand on the continuum. This heightens both empathy and critical thinking.  Here is a link the activity: Where Do You Stand? Exercise 

 

  • Student Speakers: Another effective starting exercise is to have students who have engaged in service talk about their experiences. I invited in current students from LACS, former students who pursued service in college & beyond, and also included a video by one particularly inspired student who, prior to committing to service, had been a mediocre student.  YouTube plugin error Hundreds of students at Ithaca High viewed this video and, I believe, it inspired many of them. All of the students who shared their stories emphasized how service had helped them in terms of confidencecritical analysisempathycommitmentsocial justice, and combating bias.

 

  • Ranking: Another entry point that helps students sort out their values about community and service is a ranking game I adopted from Ithaca College Professor Jeff Claus, the co-author of Service Learning for Youth Empowerment and Social Change. This is a good exercise to use after a few initial discussions about service, for it involves critical analysis of the differences between creating social change and offering charity.

 

         Ranking Exercise

 

  • Interview: The next step is, in essence, to find out what bothers the students about some aspect of the community. That is, what makes them angry! What do they want to change! Paired interviews are a useful way to begin this process. In addition, students learn about their strengths and weaknesses by interviewing each other; this is one of the avenues service provides for breaking down pre-conceptions and stereotypes. (Clearly, this relates to self-awareness and combating bias.) It is also important to discuss what gives students hope, for this allows them to move into the service work with the belief that change is possible. After interviewing each other, students introduce each other to the class in pairs. These are all small but vital first steps in winnowing down what service project they wish to work on and forming a sense of group commitment. 

 

          Interviewing Exercise 

 

Second Step – Finding a Overarching Cause:

 

Now comes the hard, lengthy yet illuminating process of figuring out what matters to the whole group when it comes to making a difference in the community. A teacher reviews the aforementioned interviews and based on this information helps the class discern patterns.  What general issues came up that angered people?  Where did they want to put their energy?  Do they want to serve the school community or the wider world?  This is not when students select a specific project, but instead when they muse over possibilities and begin to figure out the overarching topic or cause they wish to work on.

 

Each AVID class came up with a variety of general areas they wish wanted to change, including poverty, people being excluded at Ithaca High, racism, pollution, abusive relationships, animal cruelty, and lack of opportunities for teens in the community. One of the AVID 10 classes decided, after much discussion, to focus on abusive relationships. But just what that meant and what they wanted to do about it took months to hash out. The steps below will detail that process. But first here are some of the other issues AVID classes chose to focus on: AVID 12 – opportunities for teens and later reaching out to younger kids to prepare them for success in high school; both AVID 11 classes – raising awareness about African American History in the Ithaca community (this was not arrived at by the same process, but more teacher directed); one AVID 10 class – poverty and education; one AVID 9 class – cancer; another AVID 9 class – bias and stereotypes. All of the discussions needed to arrive at these topics bolstered problem solving skills, equity, and confidence, not to mention self-awareness and an awareness of matters of social justice.

 

What this process requires is time and patience on the part of the students and the teachers. We are so used to speeding along to the next piece of information to absorb, the next test to prepare for, that it can be hard to slow down and accept that the process of careful discussion toward a meaningful goal is worthwhile and necessary. With this in mind, here is a description of some of the early discussions about the issue of abuse by the AVID 10 class. In the early stages, students could not decide on what was meant by abuse; they agreed that the issue of power stood at the core of most abusive relationships, but it seemed too huge a service effort to deal with all kinds of abuse. They considered child abuse, rape, domestic violence, and abusive dating relationships. They needed to narrow down the topic, much as one would for a research paper. To focus their work, they reflected on questions more specific to the topic and then the teacher led discussions based on their responses, such as “What type of abuse do you feel is most important to change?” and “What kind of abuse do you see most often in your communities?”

 

Third Step / Educating Ourselves:

 

Before honing in on the details of a service project, a group needs to educate themselves about the general problem or cause they have decided to focus on. Toward this end, the AVID groups took a variety of steps. First and foremost, they invited in guest speakers. In the case of one AVID 10 class, Lyn Stack from the Advocacy Center (an organization that assists those dealing with many forms of abuse, but especially domestic violence and relationship abuse and sexual violence – www.theadvocacycenter.org/ ) came in to offer an overview on the nature of abuse. But it was key that they invited her back after having many discussions about just what they saw in the community that bothered them most about abuse and what forms of abuse seemed to touch the Ithaca High community most directly. After these discussions, they settled on abusive dating relationships, though even this would need refining. They invited Lyn in again and would eventually have a variety of other experts in the field speak, but first they needed to take the information they had garnered and begin to forge a service project. Being at the center of the decision making process from the start heightened their confidence and commitment to the project.

 

Before further discussing the AVID 10 project, I want to touch on how other groups gained information and educated themselves. The AVID 11 classes also had guest speakers come in, though in this case the teachers choice the speakers and the direction for the group. The teacher, Ms. Andrea Kiely, having worked with the class for three years, felt they needed a particular kind of service project that related directly to academics, as well as to African American culture and pride in that culture. Though having the teacher select the cause may dilute the initial enthusiasm and stake the students have in a project, if a teacher truly knows the students, as I believe Ms, Kiely does, having a teacher-directed project can still empower the students if, in the end, they have a good deal of input on the nuts and bolts of the project. In this instance, the project is to work with the city of Ithaca's Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Walk and Implementation Committee as it plans to create a path similar to the Sagan planet walk, but with a focus on African American history in our community. In order to educate the students and engage them, we had two speakers come in to discuss the history of the project, including the link to Ithaca High School students’ efforts to change the name of State Street to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. -- http://mlkcommunitybuild.wikispaces.com/%E2%80%A2MLK+%26+Ithaca. The first speaker, Carol Kammen, is our community’s preeminent local historian. The second speaker, Leslyn Claiborne McBean, is not only a county representative for the 2nd District, but also the Deputy Director of the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, as well as a well known spokesperson for the African American community. Clearly, all this relates to combating bias and social justice. Below is a photograph of the two speakers presenting to the AVID classes:

 

 

In the end, time and Ms. Kiely’s maternity leave dictated that we wait until next year to continue the project. But the groundwork has been laid and, with the help of Nan Brown in the Ithaca High library, we have articles about how best to enliven history for teens in a public setting. The current plan is that the students will read these next year, spend time looking at the sites on the walk, and work with the committee to make suggestions about how best to shape the MLK Walk to make it worthwhile to teens. Eventually, they will need to present their ideas to the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Walk and Implementation Committee. This will clearly be a critical part of their service work and will help them feel confident in the role of being active citizens.

 

Another instance of education, while also teacher directed to some extent, related to the AVID 9 class that wished to work on bias and stereotypes; in particular, the teachers needed to help the students understand the weight and difficulty of such work. It had become clear from initial discussion that not everyone truly grasped how hurtful and damaging derogatory words could be. Hence, the teacher, Caline Khavarani, led a discussion on the history of the word fag that helped students grasp the violence and hatred behind that common term. I tried to make the topic more personal by telling of specific stories in my life, including ones that took place at Ithaca High, that concerned bias against rural students, racism, and anti-Semitism. To underscore how much this meant to me personally, I showed them photographs of past friends at Ithaca High and my family who had been hurt by bias. Most of the students seem moved by this information and, while not ready to share their own tales in great detail, said that had similar stories in their lives. This obviously connects to matters of self-awareness, social justice, and combating bias.

 

We followed this with a “Where Do You Stand?” activity specifically about bias to help them see that we all had a variety of experiences and opinions about this heavy topic, which helped with self-awareness and empathy. We offered purposefully provocative statements such as, “With the election of President Obama, racism is really less of an issue for our county” and “It is easier to combat racism than homophobia.” It was a tough but necessary exercise.

 

Finally, the AVID 12 class used their own knowledge of the community as the main source for their first stab at service work. After discussions and votes, they decided to focus on finding a space for teens from all backgrounds to have positive experiences after school. To educate themselves, they each shared what they had seen work and not work about GIAC, the Enfield Community Center, the former teen center on Seneca Street, and so forth. The discussions were lively and candid, involving problem solving and critical analysis, as well connections to combating bias. In the end, the group gave up on the idea of creating a teen center, for they realized it was too ambitious to do in one year; they re-focused on offering middle schoolers and older elementary school students positive experiences and information about succeeding in school. This may sound like a “failure,” but time and energy are factors and they wanted to make sure they completed what they started and had a concrete impact. The shift, therefore, was a genuine moment of learning.

 

Fourth Step - Forming a Project:

 

The AVID 10 class next had to figure out just what to do about abusive relationships. Indeed, by this point many of them were irritated that they had not taken action, but had just talked and talked. This feeling would get worse before it got better, for truly creating meaningful service projects takes time and patience, which, in turn, builds a genuine sense of commitmentTo get started, students worked in groups to come up with what they would like to see done about abusive relationships among teens. They came up with a fairly long list, from creating artwork to working with middle schoolers. Each student then wrote about the pros and cons of various approaches and projects, sharing their ideas with the whole class. This led them to decide on having a wristband campaign and a day of learning or a forum for teens. Getting to this point required a great deal of listening, reasoning, and compromise – all linked to the skills of critical analysis and problem solving. The teachers, Ms. Scholl and I, facilitated the discussions, but the students made the decisions.

 

Once they decided on the kind of project, they brainstormed just what would be needed for such work and tried to create a vision of each step. Regarding the forum, they needed to decide who it would be for – the whole Ithaca teen community, only Ithaca High students, only older students, etc. This again engendered debate about both the logistics and the substance of what would be presented at the forum. In fact, they quickly realized they needed to spend a good of time and thought on just what population they wished to focus on; in the end, they decided to have it only for Ithaca High School students.

 

Around the time Ms. Scholl and I realized they were burning out on the discussions and needed to take some actual steps or they might feel too frustrated to forge ahead. Therefore, before hashing out any more of the details of the event, we had the students turn to some practical tasks, including getting permission for the forum and obtaining funds. It is important to be aware of when a group feels stuck in the talking stage of a project and to find ways to move them forward; generally speaking, the younger the group, the more of these concrete steps need to be highlighted so they feel there is movement.

 

Securing permission and funds for the project were critical learning experiences for the students. They had to craft a letter to the principal, Mr. Mills, making sure they could proceed. (Later it would become evident that we should have approached the social workers early in the process, too; trying to include all stakeholders is a tricky yet vital part of service projects.) Next they had to work on writing formal letters to request donation from businesses. They did not always enjoy this work, but it was apparent that they took pride in the end product of a clear, well written letter that would actually further a cause about which they deeply cared. Such steps relate to problem solvingcommitment and, at times, critical analysis, as did the grant writing, to which I now turn.

 

Grant writing was surely one of the most empowering service learning experiences for the AVID 10 students. I gave a lesson on grant writing and based on this, they worked in groups to write a formal request to Ithaca Public Education Initiative for funds. Here is a document about tips on grant writing for students: Tips on Grant Writing for School and Teen Related Projects. They used these tips, along with models of past IPEI grants. This is the final copy of their grant proposal: No Use for Abuse Grant

 

In the end, they were granted $500 for the project. Again, the pride they took in obtaining this grant did two things. First, they felt competent and confident and able to take action. Second, they got a bit scared. Now they knew they had to proceed and actually make this service project work. This led to anxiety, but also to a great deal of creative, positive energy and effort.

 

Fifth Step - Hammering Out the Details

 

Now that they had the funds and a plan for a service project, the AVID 10 class needed to create just what the forum and wristbands would look like, getting into the nitty-gritty details upon which the success of a service project often hinges. They divided into groups, half focusing on the wrist bands and half on the forum. Each group presented their initial ideas to the other. They quickly realized that not everyone had the same vision for the project. This meant they needed to write out their ideas and refine them with each other. This indirectly taught them a great deal about compromise and cooperation; when they reflected back on the experience, many spoke about how they had to pull together and listen to each other. This relates to their self-awareness, for they began to see themselves as each having a key role in the group. This can and did happen in many ways. For the AVID 10 class, one of the best experiences was when they all gathered around a table and loudly, forcefully hashed out just what they wanted the logo on the wristbands to look like; one student drew while the others tossed out suggestions and constructive criticism. (They even debated an issue of bias, for they were not sure if the logo should emphasize or de-emphasize same sex couples.)  Eventually they talked it out until they came to consensus about the image. Yet this free form, somewhat chaotic process will not work for all groups. There has to already be a level of trust to allow for such freedom in discussions and decisions making. For instance, in one of Ms. Khavarani AVID 9 classes, the one working on biases and stereotypes, the process of picking a project had to be far more controlled. The class was younger, larger and had strong personalities that could derail focus. In the AVID 9 class we more carefully structured the discussions, asking students to raise hands and sometimes keep their heads on their desks as they voted so as not to influence each other. Here is an example of a structured set of questions for such a group: Combating Bias Next Steps

 

Often working on the details of a service project requires calling in specialists. For example, in order to create the logo for the wristband we called upon Armin Heurich, the computer specialist in the Ithaca High School library. He worked with one student on how to use Google Documents (which includes an art program) and then the two of them shared their work with the class as we attempted to order the wrist bands on-line as a group. This was not easy for we had to make compromises, altering the original design because of financial constraints; this, in turn, spurred some students to feel a bit hopeless about the whole project and hence they disengage. These set backs are a key part of the process. But, in the end, the students who disengaged not only bought back in, but later apologized on their own for having soured that moment. Further, the young woman who worked with Mr. Heurich on learning Google Documents would later reflect on how empowering it was to learn that skill (confidence once again), share it with others, and see a finished product. I should add that through this whole process Mr. Heurich was incredibly patient with all parties, which is a key trait for any specialist you call in to work with students. (He once again showed his patience while teaching me how to create this very website, though I want to be clear that I am responsible for any errors or less than stellar workmanship herein.)

 

Two other specialists the class called in were the head of the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service Role Players (http://www.suicidepreventionandcrisisservice.org/spv_education.html)

, Lee-Ellen Marvin, and Ben Howd, a local high school film maker (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=82262629459&v=wall). Lee-Ellen worked with the whole class to create and craft role plays specific to their particular concerns about abusive relationships, trying to pinpoint issues they had witnessed at Ithaca High. These dealt with sexism, gender roles, homophobia, family conflicts, and, of course, abusive relationships. Once again, social justice and combating bias came into play. Lee-Ellen, with the guidance of the AVID students, would be instrumental in helping the group create one of the workshops for the forum. Ben Howd filmed a public service announcement five of the students had written and rehearsed after seeing other PSAs on the topic of abusive relationships that they felt did not fit the needs and issues of the Ithaca High student body. In both cases, with the role playing and the PSA, students came away feeling a new found confidence in what they could accomplish. One AVID student jumped right into the role playing with only a single practice session, which she would later reflect was a meaningful, confidence building step for her. Further, the students in the film had enough courage and belief in the project to have it play in a loop in the Ithaca High cafeteria in order to raise awareness about the topic and the day of awareness itself. 

 

Here is a link to the PSA:

No Use for Abuse PSA from Jon Raimon on Vimeo.

 

Step Five - Seeing the Project to Completion

 

As the AVID 10 group moved to the final day for the forum / day of awareness, they realized just how much they had taken on and how they needed to share the work – from making banners, to postering, to checking on donations, to making sure they had the appropriate spaces booked for the day of the forum. All of these tasks involved problem solving and commitment. It is true that because of the bureaucratic and adult driven nature of a large school, Ithaca High included, many of these tasks, in the end, fell to the teachers. Illustratively, though we all exhaustively discussed the best rooms for each workshop at the forum, the teachers had to nail down final room use.  Clearly, the more a school can shift to allowing students to take charge of the details, the more empowering and educational the experience will be.

 

The day of the forum, entitled NO USE FOR ABUSE, was exciting. It is true that not that many teachers signed up to have their classes attend the workshops (see the Challenges page), but enough students showed up, and the workshops themselves were enlightening and engaging. These included panels of survivors and allies, the Clothesline Project (T-shirts made by survivors of abuse and their allies), the Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service Role Players, and more. The AVID 10 students clearly took pride as they watched their peers and teachers learn about this topic and gain resources about how to have healthy, non-abusive dating relationships. Inspired by the participants in the workshops, both teachers and students stepped forward to share their stories about this emotionally trying topic; this frank, openhearted sharing definitely moved the AVID students and all those who attended, and surely heightened empathy. Moreover, to have students who usually do not engage in service clubs, honor societies, and the like put themselves forward as role models augmented equity in the school.  Below are photographs of the NO USE FOR ABUSE Forum / Day of Awareness:

 


 

 

Before moving on to the final stage, that of reflection, I would like to highlight two service projects the AVID 12 students created. One of their main goals was to reach out to students who might be struggling in some way. More precisely, they wished to introduce themselves as role models to younger folks who faced potential hurdles in school. Toward this end, they carried out arts and sports activities with Enfield Elementary after school program students. This was particularly important because it modeled for the younger students, most all of whom were white and from a rural area, how students from various backgrounds, including high schoolers from Enfield, could cooperate and present a positive image about school, which clearly relates to combating bias and enhancing social justice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other activity, presenting to the College Discovery Program (http://collegediscoveryprogram.com/), was even more successful in that it overtly helped students who would be coming to Ithaca High hear about what it takes to do well in that school. Below is a video of a role play the AVID students did on what not to do at Ithaca High.  They also did a skit on how to succeed at Ithaca High, which was followed by a question and answer session. 

 

AVID 12 presents to College Discovery Program students from Jon Raimon on Vimeo.

 

Reflecting on these experiences was crucial to understanding how they had personally changed and what kind of impact they had on the community (once again self-awareness and confidence), which leads to the final step of the service process – reflection.

 

Step Seven / Reflection

 

Though I put this as the final step, the truth is that reflection needs to occur throughout the process. Without an extensive, on-going reflective process, students will often not discern what they are gaining from all the work; and without overtly raising awareness about the experiences, the values and lessons associated with service will often slip away before they are internalized. This is why we would periodically take time to write out our thoughts on how they felt the projects were going, including positive and negative aspects, as well reflections on personal growth. It is not hard to come up with questions to guide reflection, but it is easy to skip over this step or give it little time; this would be a mistake. For a more formal description of the reflective process, follow this link to the National Youth Leadership Council --http://www.nylc.org/wisl/index.html#mainNavLinks=4.  In addition, there are practical steps for reflection in Cathryn Berger Kaye’s The Complete Guide to Service Learning: Proven, Practical Ways to Engage Students in Civic Responsibility.

 

Yet there is no doubt that final reflections are vital to wrap up a service experience and think about where the service fits into a student’s vision of what matters to her or him, as well as to consider further steps to take. I will first describe a conversation with the AVID 10 class the day after the forum, for some of the most meaningful reflections come in the form of causal chats both during and immediately after service events. I will then turn to written reflections from the AVID 12 and AVID 10 classes.

 

When I asked students to pick one skill or trait they will take with them and use in the future from this service project, they smiled, thought deeply and offered the following:

 

  • Cooperation

  • a sense that I can make a difference

  • new computer skills

  • grant writing

  • how to pull something big together

  • courage

  • acting skills

  • writing a script for a video

  • knowledge about how to stay out of another unhealthy relationship

  • confidence

 

After this we all recalled one part of the process that made us laugh. They really enjoyed remembering all the struggles and goofy moments we had gone through as a group. Do take the time to laugh! 

 

Below are written reflections by the AVID 10 group on the forum and the AVID 12 group on the project at the Enfield After School Program:

 

AVID 10 Reflections

 


 

AVID 12 Reflections

 

I feel that I did get to know a new part of the community. I got to meet students that I would not run into or meet through school activities, and I felt that I left a big impression on them. I feel like race didn’t matter. The kids looked up to me and no one’s race or color came to my mind. I was comfortable out there. At first I thought it would be different, but children are children and I don’t feel they judged me and I didn’t judge them.

 

Enfield is often forgotten so I’m glad I got to experience that. In a way I thought it was awkward and little kids are not really shy about saying things. But overall I felt it was a great experience. Maybe we should go to BJM next to get both sides of things.

 

I loved going back to my old school and seeing the kids. When I went to Enfield there was only one kid in each grade of a different race. Because I am Hispanic I think it helped the kids to see that blacks and whites can get along.

 

I had never been to Enfield so I got to see the school and what the kids are like. I thought that race was not an issue. A lot of the kids loved [one of the African American students] and [another one of the African American students] and didn’t treat them different. But I don’t think we should do elementary again because we can’t really do other stuff with them besides physical games. I think that middle schoolers would be fun to work with again.

 

The woman I first spoke to wanted to know if the Ithaca High students were from “here” – and maybe she meant just any student, but I couldn’t help feeling that race was in her mind, too. And I had expected more rural poverty, but because it was the after school program and not the extended day program, it was a bigger mixture of social class. (Note: This was part of my reflection. It is important to reflect along with the students and let them know you are learning and questioning the value of the service, too.)

 

Reflection, Self-Awareness, Combating Bias, and Tough Emotional Issues

 

One of the most vital aspects of service, especially service done as a group, is facing tough, real life experiences and learning from other peoples’ challenges. This is one reason why reflection is so crucial; you do not want to raise emotionally fraught feelings without an avenue for processing them. Illustratively, during the process of creating the forum on relationship abuse, it became evident that some of the people in the group had personal connections to the topic; for some, this meant learning the details of what it looks like to be a victim of abuse so they could avoid it in future relationships; for others, it meant getting support from teachers and peers. This same kind of tough reality came through in some of the other AVID classes, too. Another AVID 10 class decided to create a service project to help ameliorate some aspect of poverty. The discussions about poverty that were a part of the process led some of the students from working class families to speak aloud about their experiences; they talked of single moms and how they shouldered responsibilities, and how disconnected such experiences seemed to be with the reality of many of the students at Ithaca High. The tenor of their voices revealed strong emotions on this subject and they seemed appreciative not only to tell their stories, but also to begin to take action on a topic that personally affected them. Service often elicits this type of openness on matters of bias, social justiceempathy and self-awareness. (It is true that this group, because the teacher was out for a good part of the year, were not able to carry out the project yet; but they all agreed to pick it up in the fall. They currently plan to volunteer throughout the year in elementary schools where poverty is an issue.) Likewise, some of the students of color in the AVID 9 class dealing with stereotypes had to face, with the support of the teachers, a handful of white students wondering aloud if any racism existed nowadays. This allowed for classic teachable moments where students and teachers can gentle explain personal experiences and share stories; the shifts of awareness may still be in incipient form, but at least the process has begun and will continue as the AVID 9 class continues their work together over the next three years.

 

 

 

 

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