Teachers Employ Service Learning Approach
Several teachers in the Milton Public School are using a method of teaching the applies students' skills and talents to a project that benefits the community.
The general perception of education is that a teacher presents information and then the students recite it back on some kind of a test. A group of teachers, administrators and students are trying to integrate a new philosophy that relies on hands-on work with a benefit to the community and beyond.
Service learning projects like a cooking class selling baked goods to benefit the food pantry and the larger scale Outdoor Classrooms project have been popping up in Milton over the last few years. This inclusive teaching method gives every student a chance to express their ideas and implement them.
Jeff Stoodt, a science teacher at Pierce Middle School, has become very involved in service learning. After Stoodt completed several projects and gained support from Milton High School Vice Principal Yolanda Beech, Kassandra Derby, a high school art teacher, joined the movement.
Derby and Stoodt both explained that service learning allows the students to take control of their education, and direct their focus outside of the school walls. By being aware of the world around them, these projects allow students to affect change.
"Change will only happen if you start to believe you can make a difference," Stoodt said.
The Milton Public Schools are in the third year of a grant from Learn and Serve America, a federal grant, and state grants from the Department of Education to start service learning projects in the school system. This year, Milton High and Pierce Middle School held open houses for teachers interested in adding a service learning project to their lesson plans. The well-attended events even helped stir student interest. Students are currently submitting their own proposals including one that would tackle drinking and alcoholism in Milton.
Beech explained that the program began at the high school with a group of juniors and senior who were struggling slightly in the classroom. The students designed and planted the outdoor classroom garden in the High School courtyard.
The possibilities for service learning projects are nearly limitless. All grade levels and subject matters could formulate a plan to work on a project. Most importantly they empower all kinds of learners.
"(The students) get motivated by helping someone in need because they can feel their own need," said Stoodt.
The eventual goal is for Milton to have a sustainable service learning program that is deeply integrated into the curriculum. In the Hudson School District, this has already been achieved. Their program is 15 years old and fully rooted in the system's philosophy.
With a full understanding of service learning in the district, funding becomes less of a barrier.
"If (a project) requires money they would make it," Derby said, explaining that project planning should include a fundraising component if necessary. "It shouldn't be about money."
Aside from monetary setbacks, the biggest roadblock for an extensive service learning program in Milton is time. With so much time devoted to preparing for testing, the outside-the-box projects that take students into the community may be too much of a drain on a teacher's time. But Stoodt and Derby believe the time issue is manageable as long as teachers create time for collaboration.
Stoodt explained that the next step is letting the community know, "We're open for service," which is done by identifying needs in the community and steering students and resources toward them.
Service learning is often most successful when used as a partnership. Non-profits or businesses that pair up with classes often create a mutually beneficial relationship.
Derby cited one example from another school district where an accounting class partnered with a local accounting firm. Students were certified to do taxes and then applied their skills to help under-privileged seniors.
"They learn an incredible skill and at the same time they're doing a real service to the community," said Derby.
As collaboration increases this unique way of melding curriculum and community will become a mainstay at the Milton Public Schools.
Jeff Stoodt and Kassandra Derby can be reached at Pierce Middle School, 617-696-4568, and Milton High School, 617-696-4470, respectively.