Teachers share lessons learned
Many teachers find service-learning projects driven by student voice to be challenging. “It’s like being handed a blank sheet of paper,” said Lauren DeHart, teacher at Mariana Bracetti Academy Charter School.
Lauren was one of 16 teachers who participated this year in a charter school consortium initiated by Need in Deed. Three schools took part in the pilot project: Folk Arts and Cultural Treasures (FACTS), Independence and Mariana Bracetti Academy charter schools.
In spite of challenges such as scheduling common planning time, no experience guiding a yearlong service-learning project and not knowing quite what to expect of Need in Deed or the consortium – teachers who led their students through projects were proud to demonstrate the outcomes at an end-of-the-year celebration held in early June at the National Liberty Museum.
Teachers from FACTS showed videos created by their students on their chosen topic: gangs. The title of one video was “Gang Life: Everyone wants to be cool.” Said teacher Erica Young, “The boy who wrote the script is very quiet, very shy. He really came into his own with this project.”
Julie Lenard, from Independence Charter School, spoke enthusiastically about the various aspects of her 6th grade class’s project on water pollution. Motivated by the trash they saw on a neighborhood walk and inspired by their community partner, Fairmount Water Works, the students launched a street cleanup, wrote SEPTA asking for more trash receptacles in buses, at bus stops and on subways, completed individual “I-search” research projects and lobbied the school’s food service committee to replace styrofoam lunch trays, plates and utensils with more eco-friendly products.
Amy Bradley, from Mariana Bracetti, first learned about Need in Deed’s “My Voice” framework in graduate school at Penn. Still, she admits, having a one-hour introduction to Need in Deed in a graduate course and helping teachers implement the framework in their classrooms are quite different.
“Teachers aren’t used to incorporating this into their day,” she said, “and students aren’t used to talking with their teachers so candidly about real-world problems. We still have kinks to work out, but we know a lot more now.”