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When students taking Tullahoma High School’s Service Learning elective go to class they might be helping elementary pupils with math homework, delivering hot meals to the needy, or sending toiletries to troops deployed outside the United States.
In return, the class helps students learn responsibility to the community, delivers analytical skills, and sends students to work in cooperative teams to achieve a common goal.
“The purpose of service learning,” said instructor Sandy Klonaris, “is for students to develop a sense of personal integrity and responsibility to the community and then recognize connections between what they are learning in school and putting it to use.”
In Service Learning class, each student is responsible for originating a group project. This year, one such project involves sending shoebox gifts to military men and women at Christmas.
Klonaris points out projects like this one teach students “that what they are learning is usable in real life.”
For example, before a proper shoebox can be assembled, students must use their research skills to find out what should go into each box and where the completed box should be sent. Once they know that, they must use their math skills to determine how much it will cost to assemble each box and send it. Then, they must figure out how to pay for those supplies and postage, which will likely spawn another project: a fundraiser.
“Students have time, service and sweat equity to give,” said Klonaris. “But not money.”
One project leading to another is a key aspect of service learning. “When we do service, it should feed itself,” said Klonaris.
Whether the students plan a car wash or sell baked goods to raise funds for the items requested by Florida’s Operation Shoebox, they will ultimately be learning partnership and communication skills.
“Critical thinking is a life skill,” said Klonaris. “It’s a life skill to be able to re-plan.”
In fact, critical thinking is necessary for students to identify a sustainable commitment. Students must select projects or services that they can complete in a single semester without creating a service lack during their absence over fall, spring, or holiday breaks or by the end or their semester commitment.
Students are graded on their discovery of community needs, how they’ve helped to meet those needs, and whether they’ve looked for and addressed larger needs in the process.
They are also graded on their language arts skills used to communicate in letters and e-mails sent throughout the project.
In addition to originating a group project, students are responsible for individual service.
The Service Learning curriculum depends on a system called IPARD. That stands for Investigation, Planning and Preparation, Action, Reflection, and Demonstration.
In the Investigation phase, students identify a need within the school or the community. They may contact organizations or agencies that exist to address the needs they’ve identified or, with approval, they may initiate their own plan.
Tullahoma Mayor Lane Curlee spoke to students recently about community service, including his own Hot Meals program that feeds the needy and takes meals to the homebound. Whether students decide to work packaging, delivering, or serving hot meals or opt instead to work with another non-profit agency, Curlee’s visit helped the students realize a need.
“They were surprised to find how much need there is,” said Klonaris.
The next phase in the process is Preparation and Planning. In this stage, students have selected the organizations they will be working with and identified the duties expected of them there.
In the Action phase, students begin to make changes in their school or community and document their hours and activities with the organizations they’ve chosen.
At this point in the semester, THS students are just beginning this phase. After identifying a need in elementary schools, many service learning students have begun tutoring math and reading there.
“It’s early. They’ve just learned the basics,” said Klonaris.
In the Reflection phase, students are asked to identify how their service had an impact on their school or community, how the experience helped them to better understand subjects or ideas they’ve studied in school, and how it helped them to understand their responsibilities as a citizen.
Finally, in the Demonstration phase, students share the experience with family, friends, the community, or elected officials.
“Contribution to the community is a college entry requirement,” says Klonaris.
“It’s been a popular program.”