Service learning provides students with an opportunity to both teach and learn. It combines community service, instruction, and reflection in order to help teach responsibility, respect, leadership, and values.
Last year, I was lucky enough to receive funding from Massachusetts General Hospital Revere CARES to start a service learning club called the Future Teachers Club of Revere (FTC). The main purpose of the club is to assist high school students in exploring teaching as a career choice, although many students joined the club in order to learn responsibility and leadership. Through the club, students get practical experience and a realistic understanding of teaching and learning. The club's mission is twofold:
As advisor to the club, I wanted the "future teachers" to understand the social and psychological research concerning the field of education. I also hoped that by exploring the foundations of education, students would expand and refine both their teaching and leadership skills. Future teachers would be responsible for all curriculum and instruction in the club, and they would need to respond to all the problems they faced in undertaking this task.
For the program to succeed, future teachers would need to be familiar with how children learn and develop, and they would be required to create learning experiences that support a child's intellectual, personal, and social development. Future teachers would have to learn how to motivate the middle school students, and they would need to be able to handle any classroom management issues.
It was decided that the future teachers would meet with the middle school students of the Rumney Marsh Academy every Friday for an hour. Afterwards, the future teachers would meet with me to debrief, discuss any issues that came up, and plan curriculum and instruction for the next week. Future teachers were responsible for one hour of "homework" a week, in which they would create lesson plans to be used the following week. For their time, the Revere CARES grant paid the students $8.00 per hour.
Because we initially had difficulty interesting the middle school students in the program, I appealed to my friend, Kathleen Liakos, a licensed social worker at the RMA, to help me recruit students. As a result, many of the students who attend "The Program" are kids who need it the most: students with behavior problems, special needs, and social issues. It was a great joy for this educator to watch these disenfranchised students take ownership of and become empowered by The Program.
To say The Program was a success is an understatement. The lessons learned by both the middle school students and the high school students were legion! Bonds were formed, mentoring relationships solidified, and friendships blossomed. One large part of The Program focused on music instruction. A call for musical instruments on my Facebook page resulted in donations of new guitars, drums, and keyboards (thank you, Charlie and Paty!). Britney, one of the middle school students participating, became so adept at playing the guitar that she took 2nd place in her school's talent show. She had never touched a guitar before The Program. And her mentor, Josh, was there to support her at the talent show, and she was there to support him when the high school Rock Ensemble performed their spring concert.
A group of future teachers settled in the RMA's theater area where they acted in plays, played games, learned how to salsa, and talked about issues important to preteens. The future teachers discussed their favorite middle-school books like Blubber, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and The Outsiders. For the middle-schoolers, having the future teachers there as their role models was a powerful experience.
Five girls worked together on what had to be the most difficult paint-by-numbers project I have ever seen. But the students didn't just paint â while they worked, they talked about issues and problems. The middle school students talked to the future teachers about what high school life was like and about issues of self-esteem and belonging. When two of those 8th grade students joined the high school this September, they knew their friends Lindsay and Xuyen would be there to help them hurdle any obstacle high school presented.
Perhaps the most challenging but also the most rewarding part of the Future Teachers Club was the weekly dodgeball games played in the school's gym. Each week the number of (mostly male) middle-schoolers increased till the numbers soared to almost fifty. At first, I wasn't sure what sort of "learning experience" playing dodgeball would be for the middle school students or future teachers, but I quickly discovered that it was a powerful one. One day one of the toughest middle school students, Shane, was accidentally slammed in the face with a dodgeball. I was standing near the sidelines, and Shane came over to me, a nice red mark spreading across his face. "You know, Barile," he said. "If this was three months ago, I'd be in a raging fight right now with the person that threw that ball at me. But I know it was unintentional, and I'm shaking it off and getting back in the game." I was proud of Shane, and I watched him change from a boy with discipline problems in his school to a strong leader among his peers. Kevin, a future teacher, began tutoring Shane after school, and when Shane wrote a sonnet for his English class that received an A, I knew that the club had succeeded in many of its goals.
The principal, vice-principals, and social workers at the RMA all listed the many ways that the FTC helped their students. Discipline problems decreased, students forged friendships, and grades and attendance improved. The FTC wasn't a panacea for all middle school issues, but it certainly helped solve a variety of problems.
I encourage teachers to get involved with service learning programs in their schools. Instructor Magazine has three quick service learning ideas that would benefit any middle or high school student. Other ideas for service learning can be found at Volunteering to Help the Environment, Volunteering to Help with Animals, and Volunteering to Help Seniors.
We launched the new 2010â2011 FTC program last week. Four of the new members were former middle school students, now 9th graders. Watching these young teens transition from mentees to mentors has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.