School district combines service
by Bret Bradigan
Now in its third year, the Ojai Unified School District service
learning program takes kids out of the classroom and into the
This program, paid for by a $50,000 grant from the state CalServe
K-12 Service Learning Initiative, is designed to teach students
that learning by helping is sometimes the best course.
Last week, 32 teachers, from all district schools, listened as
a lineup of representatives from Ojai organizations talked about
where the students could lend a hand, then met to talk about
their past experiences and plan new projects for this year.
Chris Johnson, the district's CalServe administrator, worked
with the teachers as they figured out how to integrate what they
teach with the program. As an example, she pointed to the brochure,
"Cool Places for Cool Kids" produced by third-grade
classes at Topa Topa Elementary School. The brochure features
a list of places in the Ojai Valley, and the activities which
can be done there, such as the playground at Libbey Park, or
learning about the original inhabitants of Ojai, the Chumash,
at the Ojai Valley Museum.
Tracy Anderson's Topa Topa third-graders are now planning a youth-oriented
Web site for Ojai. "Service learning really makes the curriculum
come alive,' she said. "What better way to learn than to
go out into the community and learn - the kids generate the ideas
and do all the work."
Other teachers used their successes to motivate teachers new
to the program. Pam Edwards, from Chaparral High School, said
she took a group of 12 students around to the district's sixth
grade classes to warn them of the dangers of smoking. The students
also produced a video and a marionette show for Cesar Chavez
Day. "They got applause from the community, and they've
never had that before."
"They were the driving force," Edwards said about the
various projects. "They kept me going when it seemed overwhelming."
Barbara Brown, whose fourth graders at Topa Topa have adopted
Ojai Meadows Preserve for their service learning project, spoke
about how the project helped motivate a student who struggled
to learn. She read aloud the girl's poem, "The Frog Who
Loved the Meadow," as an example of what occurs when kids
make an investment in their lesson and their community at the
Students often have a problem making these connections between
what they learn and practical applications of those lessons,
Edwards said. "This focusing on tests and standards, kids
don't understand. This provides purpose."
Service Learning, as defined by National and Community Service
Trust, includes five elements: meeting a real community need;
integrated into and enhances curriculum; coordinated with another
community group or organization; helps foster civic responsibility
and provides structured time for reflection.
"Whether the goal is academic improvement, personal development,
or both, students learn critical thinking, communication, teamwork,
civic responsibility, mathematical reasoning, problem solving,
public speaking, work skills, computer skills, scientific method,
research skills and analysis," stated the teachers' handout.
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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