In the weeks prior to October 31, Alison Barnes’ 5th/6th learning support grade class at Grover Washington Jr. Middle School in Olney had been discussing which of several topics being considered they might choose as the focus of their service-learning project. But events that Wednesday marked a pivotal point, solidifying the students’ inclination to examine the problem of gun violence.
That morning, Grover and several dozen other schools in the area went into modified lock down as the search escalated for the man who shot Philadelphia police officer Charles Cassidy. At the time the school-wide announcement was made, neither the students nor their teacher knew the reason for the restriction. A quick internet search by Ms. Barnes explained the cause. She printed an item about the incident and discussed it with her students. From that moment on there was no question which issue they would select.
Subsequent classroom activities created venues for the children to express their feelings about themselves, as well as about gun related incidents in their community. As part of the project each student completed an I.D. Plaque, now displayed in the classroom, and each composed an autobiographical poem. Felipe Montaluo wrote “I dream of one day being smart and knowing how to read well.” “Felipe is smart. He’s a whiz at math,” says his teacher. “And he’s on his way to achieving his reading goal.
“They get so energized when we’re talking about the service-learning project,” Alison comments. “Even the quietest students are willing to participate. I find it difficult to motivate my students to write, but they loved writing about themselves.”
Other benefits are emerging as well. “Service-learning has greatly improved the behavior of my students. They have learned to respect each other. They are so excited to speak in front of their peers and have their voice be heard.”
“I believe students learn best when they are interested in the topic because then they are motivated to learn. Service-learning does this by giving the students ownership of their education.”