I’m not sure that anyone who lives or works with a junior high aged student needs to be reminded the world revolves around him/her. Or so they all think anyway. Additionally, have you ever noticed they always seem to sneak glances in the mirror whenever they can just to be sure that in case everyone really is looking, all the hair is in the right place and nothing could be embarrassing to see? Although, the ever annoying selfie habit has replaced much of the quick look and is memorialized on Instagram for all their friends to like and share.
It is true this age is extremely self-absorbed, but I also know they are incredibly interested in helping others – I would even go so far to say they look for opportunities to help others. So much so, at times it is a challenge to harness this willingness into productive service learning opportunities.
We have had wonderful service opportunities at North over the past five years I have been the principal, some initiated by staff and others by students. We have had students attend We Day, plan food drives, grade levels have attended service field trips, and our AVID ninth grade class sponsored a community event last spring for students to interact in a positive way with our supportive law enforcement partners in Hopkins and Minnetonka. Students have also mustered support for service outside of school in their own communities through connections here at school as well. At times, to be honest, it is overwhelming the amount of service opportunities we have for students!
The struggle, I think for all educators, is to make service learning relevant by connecting students to the real world around them, and not have it just be about collecting pennies to win a pizza party. Hey – the external reward certainly works, but we are striving to make service learning more connected, more relevant, more impactful (I hope that is a word!) for our kids and our community.
As an IB World School, we are committed to service learning as a core tenet of our identity and the key part of that phrase is learning. We are working to be more systemic in the way we approach service learning by scaffolding components of service each year directly into our students work here at NJH so by the time they are ninth graders, they are able to create a community project focused on service in a small group.
The Hopkins Education Foundation has been able to help us this year (with all of your generous support) by connecting us with a consultant who is working alongside our teachers to build a cohesive and connected program of service learning in all three grades. She provides the guidance and community connections, we provide the enthusiasm, the structure and the power of our kids’ dedication to serving others.
Seventh graders will all encounter a “taste of service” through classes at school. This will occur later this year, but the gist is all of our students doing some element of service in classes throughout a school day. Local and curriculum based, every student in the grade level will be able to participate in service learning in real time with guided reflection.
Eighth graders study the impact of service through their “Power of One” projects in Global Studies investigating how individuals can make a difference through acts of service. This scaffolding helps students reinforce research skills and learn how to identify and target specific needs when building service plans.
Eventually, as we continue to build our program, all future ninth graders, beginning with the current 7th grade class in two years, will be involved in planning a community project, but this year, we will continue to pilot this endeavor with our AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) elective class who will be developing and implementing a service project to benefit our local community.
Meanwhile, students will continue to have the opportunity to participate in a variety of service projects benefitting our local and more global communities throughout the year as well. The first big event we do as a community is We Scare Hunger, a gigantically successful food drive, sponsored and organized by our student council. More information will be coming out on our website soon.
As always, I am proud of being the principal of a learning organization. We don’t settle for doing something part way and the scaffolding of service learning is a great example of this – we want all of our kids to learn from helping others and are willing to commit the time to get it right.
No matter how self-absorbed they seem, our kids are capable of amazing things, amazing kindnesses, and can have an amazing impact. Thank you for sharing them with us!