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Serving Up: A Little Learning

By Mary Ellen Flannery

Wednesday, October 7, 2009 -- With dirty hands, but clean hearts, the kids at Putnam City West High School took on a landscaping project earlier this year, pulling weeds and planting trees in honor of the victims of September 11.

Hard work, aimed at improving the community that they live in, is nothing new for this Oklahoma City school. So when the 2009 National Learn & Serve Challenge kicks off today with a national call to action – Putnam City West is ready to answer. They’re already engaged in the kind of community-serving activities that make a difference in their world.

The National Learn & Serve Challenge organized by the National Service-Learning Partnership with help from the National Education Association aims to get students to apply classroom skills and knowledge to finding innovative solutions to problems in their community.

“This is not service-learning for service-learning sake,” said Nelda Brown, executive director of the National Service-Learning Partnership. “We want to show young people the power of taking what they learn in the classroom and using it to tackle a problem in their community.”

Their goal? To get at least 5 million young people engaged in service learning by 2012, especially in five key areas: education, community renewal, health, energy and the environment, and health and nutrition.

Putnam City’s service-learning teacher, Jennifer Pasillas, and her students – with the support of school administrators like assistant principal Melanie Pealor – are ready to go.
Are you?

First, visit Learn & Serve Challenge online to accept the challenge. Once there, you can access free online resources, lesson plans, planning tools, and also join Facebook communities to connect and learn from others. Then, share your service-learning action plan and join thousands of other educators in kicking-off your Challenge Initiative in January.

Need a little inspiration? Consider what Pasillas has planned for her students this year. Every day, during their elective class, her kids go into the community. They usually tutor at a local elementary school one day a week and also help out at a local food bank another day, filling boxes for needy families.

In between, they take on all sorts of other projects: sorting through baby clothes for an infant crisis center, wrapping presents for a local mission’s Christmas program, even donning historic costumes to assist in a local museum’s annual re-enactment of the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889. One of the highlights last year: A trip to the Oklahoma City zoo, where students helped with “animal enrichment” in the lion and rhino cages.

“Once she gets that class going, it just explodes,” Pealor said.

This year, Pasillas has 13 students in her class – the capacity of her van dictates the number of students. About half of them are at-risk kids, having real trouble academically.

“I’ve had a few kids who I think would have dropped out if they hadn’t been in the class,” Pasillas said. “They build such good relationships. And it really builds their self-esteem. They get to be in the spotlight in a really positive way.”


NEA resources on Learn & Serve Challenge

Learn & Serve Challenge Web site