Ed Note: In partnership with Learn and Serve America, the Learn and Serve Challenge engaged more than 360,000 youth, educators, and community leaders who pledged to help youth understand how their education is relevant in the real world. Youth of all ages use the knowledge and skills learned in school or community-based service-learning programs to create and implement innovative solutions to our nation’s toughest problems.
As director of the National Service-Learning Partnership, I often meet people whose lives, classrooms and communities have been affected by service-learning. This month, I’d like to share one student’s story. We’ll call her “Elena.”
After serious behavioral and academic challenges, Elena had to repeat the 8th grade. She was physically imposing and quick-tempered. In Elena’s own words: “I didn’t try. I talked back. I was always in trouble.” Little did she know that change was on its way when she enrolled in an elective leadership class at Hopewell Middle School, led by teacher Luz Bowers in Round Rock Independent School District in Texas.
Ms. Bowers challenged Elena and her classmates to put their leadership skills into practice by engaging them in a service-learning experience. The students decided to respond to an important issue that affected their school community: how students with serious physical disabilities were treated on their own campus.
Elena and her classmates met with the lead teacher from the Functional Academic Class to learn more about the issues that affect students with disabilities. From there, they developed a plan to meet regularly with "buddies" in the other class. Soon, genuine friendships were formed and the students with disabilities began to look forward to seeing Elena and the others from the leadership class. Students from both classes even joined together for a joint field trip. Elena, who was once brooding and intimidating, joined with her classmates to help push wheelchairs and provide vital support for their buddies during the trip.
Throughout this experience, Elena began to change. She assumed more responsibility and began to become more responsible for her actions. Together, Elena worked with her classmates to take what they experienced in their class to the rest of the student body. Elena and her classmates took action to promote tolerance and acceptance of people with disabilities. They got involved in a campaign to “Erase the R Word” and even created a billboard for the school’s main entrance.
The service-learning experience gave Elena the opportunity to connect with her peers and to realize her leadership potential. Rather than fear her, students started to follow her. On the last day of class, a classmate told Elena, “I was afraid of you, but after what we've been through, I actually see you as a real good leader."
"These kids taught me patience,” Elena said. “[And] even though I get frustrated sometimes, I can't quit."
Is service-learning making a difference for youth in your school or community? If so, accept the Challenge today. There’s still time to join us. You can learn more about service-learning and the Learn & Serve Challenge here.
Elena’s story was shared by Round Rock Independent School District Service-Learning Coordinator Michael Hurewitz, a program supported by Service Learning Texas, administrator of the Learn and Serve America program for Texas Public Schools. You can learn more about service-learning in Round Rock here and more about service-learning in Texas here.
*Elena’s name has been changed for privacy.
Nelda Brown is the Director of the National Service-Learning Partnership at the Academy for Educational Development. The National Learn & Serve Challenge is a signature program of the National Service-Learning Partnership.
This is the fourth post in a year-long monthly series highlighting the stories of service that emerge from the 2010-2011 Learn & Serve Challenge.