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Challenge Check-In: Service-Learning Heroes Engage for Super Bowl XLV

by Amanda Duqette

Ed Note: Through the Learn and Serve Challenge, more than 360,000 youth, educators, and community leaders pledged to engage in service-learning activities to help more youth understand how their education is relevant in the real world. Youth of all ages use the knowledge and skills learned in school or a community-based program to create and implement innovative solutions to our nation’s toughest problems.

This weekend Super Bowl XLV will showcase football heroics, but heroes aren’t only found on the field -- most of them are right in our own backyard.

In anticipation of the big game in Dallas, youth across the North Texas region have been enthusiastically improving their communities through an education initiative that promotes service-learning and the power of youth civic engagement. The North Texas Super Bowl XLV Host Committee tapped Dallas-based nonprofit Big Thought to create a program which would help youth make an impact in and around the host city.

Launched last February, SLANT 45: Service-Learning Adventures in North Texas inspires youth to become champions of service and service-learning The program vastly exceeded its goals with 44,140 youth logging more than 445,000 hours in service to 33 school districts, 12 counties and 52 cities in the North Texas region. Children and youth aged 5-18 designed and implemented every project.

Daryl Johnston, former Dallas Cowboys fullback and Chair of the SLANT 45 Action Team, was impressed.“We launched this project with a lot of hope and faith that kids would embrace the spirit of giving … and did they ever,” he said. “To have 44,000-plus kids identify ideas and find so many creative ways to help their community is probably one of the most memorable things that will come out of this Super Bowl experience.”

As part of the initiative, youth from around the region submitted a wide range of project ideas that included planting community gardens, painting murals, creating adoption programs for animals, helping the elderly, running food drives, collecting toys and sports equipment, implementing anti-graffiti/anti-bullying programs, and more. Children and youth aged 5-18 implemented each service project, allowing Texas youth to research and learn about the needs in their community.

Groups of all size participated in service-learning through SLANT 45 in short and long-term projects. Several schools went a step further, deciding to integrate service-learning into their core curriculum.

  • Valley Ranch Elementary in Irving, TX, produced a school-wide health campaign. Each grade selected a health topic – everything from oral hygiene to bicycle safety – and students created a campaign to spread awareness. Teachers helped integrate projects with classroom curriculum, and the campaign culminated with a community health fair.
  • Three schools in the Plano Independent school district partnered with program sponsor Bank of America to start a “Hunger No More” campaign. Students collected canned foods for local food banks and made gift bags for Meals on Wheels recipients. Bank of America lent a hand by implementing the “Let’s Not Do Lunch” initiative in which associates donated their lunch money to the food bank.

SLANT 45 projects were not limited to school-wide initiatives. Many families, nonprofit organizations and neighborhood groups teamed up in the excitement. Program participants were each provided with an instructional “playbook” to help them think through their service-learning projects. The local chapters of Junior League International and The Links, Inc. provided hands-on support to over 1,500 SLANT 45 teams throughout the region.

With the success of SLANT 45, Big Thought will be continuing the program locally after Super Bowl XLV and is currently in conversations with the NFL about taking this program to future Super Bowl cities.

Amanda Duqette is a Project Manager with Big Thought.

This is the third post in a year-long monthly series highlighting the stories of service that emerge from this 2010-2011 Learn & Serve Challenge. You can read last month’s here.

The National Learn & Serve Challenge is a signature program of the National Service-Learning Partnership, in collaboration with Learn and Serve America. You can learn more about service-learning and the Learn & Serve Challenge here.

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