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National Service Learning Conference


I’m so excited about the 27th Annual National Service Learning Conference this week, from March 30 to April 2nd in Minneapolis, MN. The theme is “Educate – Ignite – Transform”.

My articles today and tomorrow will be dedicated to the hundreds of students, educators and government leaders from around the world who are gathering to share resources and ideas to improve their service learning efforts across the globe. It’s always an exciting and supportive event!

For more info, see http://www.servicelearningconference.org  and #SLC16


Why We Still Need Black History Month


By Robin Abrams-Tolden, M.Ed

Do we still need a Black History Month? Well, is the history of African Americans well integrated into American history? Are the contributions of black people in America celebrated regularly outside of February? Sure, superior black athletes attract a lot of attention and recognition. Maybe it’s because of the money they generate for their “owners”.

But what about this year’s Academy Awards, which will air at the end of Black History Month? It appears that African Americans in the film industry have been overlooked. One might say that perhaps there wasn’t one black person who deserved to be nominated this year. However, Hollywood didn’t think that someone like Tyler Perry was worthy of their attention, so he created his own mega empire and proved them wrong. Just because someone says you’re not worthy, doesn’t make it true.

While it is clear that blacks have significantly impacted the development of the social, political, and economic structures of the United States and the world, Black History Month is necessary, not just to recollect a timeline of events and the profiles of a few important people, but also to remind Americans of the paths we’ve taken. Not so that we can disregard our diversity, but in a way that embraces diversity and stirs up a deeper appreciation of the struggles and triumphs of the black citizens of our country.

Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950), the founder of the original Negro History Week, once said: “Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.”

Black History Month is a catalyst that inspires all students to work toward their goals in spite of any adversity they might face, which expands beyond the boundaries of the month of February. Black History Month encourages deep conversations, stirs up the memories of the elders, and stimulates critical thinking in the young.

More about the “Father of Black History Month”, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, tomorrow…


What Do Your T-Shirts Say About You?


Am I the only one who has an extensive collection of t-shirts from various events?  So I was in the process of doing a little decluttering, trying to fill up a box to be donated and I kept running across old t-shirts that I have been saving for years. Former clubs, sports teams, family reunions, charity fundraisers, employers, vacation souvenirs, etc. – each shirt with its own set of memories. Some had even been signed with names that are no longer familiar.

T-shirts are a good way to make a service learning project memorable. Recently, I saw some pictures on Instagram from a former student of mine. She and her friends were deeply involved in a paintball war – lots of fun!  Then I recognized the t-shirt she was wearing as one I had designed for our youth group over 10 years ago. I was surprised she still had it after finishing college, so I commented on her page, “hey, I remember that shirt!”  Later she replied that she felt bad that she got it all messy from paintball, but I was honored that she still had it.

I’ll bet that you can tell a lot about a person from their t-shirt collection!

Inspiring Lifelong Passion for Learning


Have you ever heard a high school student say that he or she can’t wait to be out of school? Maybe they want to take a break before college or maybe they are just done with education and feel that they are ready for the “real world”. Some of these students say they don’t think that school is preparing them for the “real world”. Adults usually discover that education does not stop after school, but is our education system preparing students for the world that is waiting for them?  How can students be encouraged to continue to learn and to apply what they learn to their lives?

When I was visiting a school in my community, I noticed a sign that displayed the vision of our local school district: “We inspire a lifelong passion for learning.” The mission of the district was also stated, “We prepare all students to achieve excellence by providing the highest quality education while empowering each individual to positively impact their families, communities and the world.”  These are strong words and impressive goals if that is truly what is being achieved.

After observing the effects of service learning on students, I’ve often wondered why it isn’t regularly incorporated into every curriculum from K-12. Service learning is a highly effective way to help students impact their communities.I don’t mean the extra “suggested activities” at the end of a unit that require extra planning for teachers. I’m talking about deliberate service learning lessons which incorporate learning objectives and result in a service project that benefits the community.

When students are afforded the opportunity to use classroom learning to impact real problems in the community, knowledge actually becomes power. Students not only develop a sense of purpose, but also the seeds for a “lifelong passion for learning” are planted.

Here’s what some students’ comments after completing service projects:  “Why don’t we do this all the time?” “I learned that I can do this next time.” “That was awesome! Can we do it again?” “It was a lot of work, but it was fun.”

In public education, it is necessary to assess the performance and progress of students, but testing is not the ultimate purpose. The vision of educators should be to inspire that lifelong passion for learning and the mission, to empower students to positively impact their families, communities and the world. Service learning is one way to pursue that vision and to live out mission. Next week, I’ll discuss some very practical ways to incorporate service learning into the curriculum.

Favorite CSL Project?

2012 CSL

Over the years, I have been involved in several community service projects and several service learning projects. Service learning projects were always my favorites because the youth developed the projects from infancy. They watched it grow and they learned so much from each project. I’ll share some of my favorites with you later, but first – What has been your favorite CSL project and why?