01/26/2009
My Voice My Community
Unexpected sources of student inspiration provide direction

The beauty of Need in Deed’s approach to service-learning

The beauty of Need in Deed’s approach to service-learning is that we never know where students and teachers might find inspiration for their service-learning projects.

In the case of Alison Barnes’ and Amy Gottesman’s 5th grade classroom at Grover Washington Jr. Middle School in Olney, the process got a jumpstart from the lyrics of rapper Tupac Shakur’s “Keep Ya Head Up.” The students compiled a list of over 20 social issues referenced in the song, an activity completed in conjunction with a literacy lesson on figurative language.

As the class continued to narrow their focus, the topic of gangs came to the forefront, and sparked an initial examination of causes and effects. They considered possible motivations for gang involvement – jealousy or other personal animosities, domestic problems, peer pressure. The students also discussed the impact gang activities have on members of the community. “Innocent people get shot or beat up,” says Rasheed. “Clothing or jewelry is stolen,” contributes Chad. “People don’t want to go outside,” adds Jeremiah.

When asked about possible next steps, Niesha expressed interest in learning more about the issue from a former gang member, while Jeremiah suggested the police could broaden the students’ knowledge. Danny wanted to know what to do if you’re approached by a gang.

So we listen to these conversations. And we travel through the school, where in the stairwells, in the bathrooms, you see the “tags” -- graphic evidence of how this problem insinuates itself, even within the school confines. And our understanding grows as to why these young people find this issue to be a relevant concern.