Building Community, One Student at a Time

BY JOE BROOKS, Founder, Community Works Institute

Each summer I have the pleasure to guide two of the longest running service-learning driven professional development events in the world, CWI’s Summer WEST, held in Los Angeles and Summer EAST in Burlington, Vermont. I am fortunate to work with some of the most dedicated K-16 educators from across the U.S. and around the world. Year after year, CWI’s Summer Institute have been an unforgettable week of inspiring collaborations, training, curriculum planning, and networking opportunities. Veteran guest faculty who join us, some for many for years, share model programs, provide guided support for curriculum planning. Unexpectedly rich collaborations are always at the mix. The dialogue goes deep but the outcomes are usually concrete. But the essence of the Institute cannot never be put quite in words. It is essential and it is work of the heart.

I can’t over state the importance of this event to my vision and enthusiasm.”
Julie Metzler, Director of Community Arts and Service
Kansas City Art Institute

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Community, Confucius, and the Moving Vehicle

By Joe Brooks, CWI Founder and Director

We seem to now be at new moment of societal conflict and crisis — playing itself out in a host of ways, politically and socially. But at the root, perhaps we are really facing a crisis of community. Community in this case being most about real relationships — that most foundational of ingredients.

Helping our students connect in thoughtful ways to their local at a time, when by nearly everyone’s estimation, we need to return to the essential roots of relationships and community, suggests more than just handshakes, checks written, or good works to be accomplished.

The deeper impetus here is about rebuilding and extending our ability to work together on important efforts that benefit our communities. Working on important efforts together inherently promotes connection, communication, and understanding — relationships. When we do this across lines of class, race, identity, and issues of social justice, in ways that deepen our experience with and understanding of each other , we move forward as a society. When we include this thinking in education we jump start a better future.

Education is often fixed in outmoded measures of accountability and success (test scores, etc.). Likewise, society may also now be fixated on archaic, supposedly larger measures of growth (GDP, etc.). But these measures take poor account of the human condition. They do not measure the heart nor the will. If there is a measure for evolution we are not collecting data.

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Small Versus Large Schools: The Truth About Equity, Cost, and Diversity of Programming

By STUART R. GRAUER, Ed.D.

Dr. Stuart Grauer is a teacher, the founding Head of School at The Grauer School, Founder of The Small Schools Coalition, and a contributing editor for Community Works Journal.

drstuartgrauer_800Powerful and often compelling myths about “real” schooling tend to govern our collective assumptions about normalcy, and these myths have silently, steadfastly advanced the move to larger, more consolidated schools and hampered any real proliferation of the small schools model in our country. Concerned about this difference between myth and reality, now a century in the making, we formed the Small Schools Coalition in 2011 and commenced with an extensive comparison of large and small school attributes. Twelve months of research and school visitations turned up some surprises that we share, herein.

We had been aware of various myths distorting our collective viewpoints about what a school should be, and our research turned up still more. We were equally aware of an historic gap of knowledge on the benefits of small schools — real community schools — and this gap was born out; but the big surprise that turned up in our research was the dearth of information on the comparative benefits of the nation’s large, comprehensive school model, which predominates in our nation. Continue reading

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Small Schools: The Myths, Reality, and Potential of Small Schools

By STUART GRAUER and CHRISTINA RYAN

sciencephoto-312x350Dr. Stuart Grauer is a teacher, the founding Head of School at The Grauer School, and Founder of The Small Schools Coalition.

“I spent years where I did not have a meaningful conversation with a teacher.”   Sal Khan, Founder, Khan Academy

 “Smaller, more intimate learning communities consistently deliver better results in academic and discipline when compared to their larger counterparts. Big schools offer few opportunities to participate.” Washington Post, January 15, 2002

Amidst a steady hundred-year American trend towards larger secondary schools, we set out to study small school benefits. We were aware of various myths distorting our collective viewpoints about what a school should be, and our research turned up more. We were equally aware of an historic gap of knowledge on the benefits of small schools, and this was borne out; but the big surprise that turned up in our research was the dearth of information on the relative benefits of the nation’s larger schools, the consolidated, comprehensive school model which predominates in our nation.

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Service-Learning Program Support Packages!

CWI’s 2017 Summer EAST and WEST Institutes
on Place Based Service-Learning, and Sustainability
Burlington, Vermont  • Los Angeles

cuhk_work2We have a wonderful but limited time opportunity, thanks to a generous private funder. Register by DEC 20 for Summer EAST or WEST with a “Program Support Package” Institute Registration and bring a three-person team of colleagues a/or community partners at an exceptional rate. In addition, we’ve included a 1/2 day consultancy for the 2017-2018 school year.

Join us for the world’s premier service-learning driven professional development events—in Burlington, Vermont and Los Angeles. Work with dedicated K-16 educators from across the U.S., for an unforgettable week of inspiring training, collaboration, and curriculum planning. Veteran practitioners will share powerful project exemplars, strategies, and tools. 
learn more
• register online

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A Perfect Match: Design Solutions Meets Service-Learning

We’re very pleased to share the following fascinating and ongoing service-learning project, shared by our colleague Karen Shorr, of Brookwood School in Massachusetts. Karen is an alumnus of CWI’s Summer Institute on Service-Learning and Sustainability.

For the past three years, Brookwood School in Manchester, MA has been pioneering authentic, community-based 3D designing and printing projects.

After becoming one of the first schools in the world to involve its students in the creation of a 3D printed prosthetic for a child—in this case Brookwood teacher Rich Lehrer’s son, Max—the school began looking for ways to further involve students in the use of design thinking and 3D printing to create solutions for community problems as a veBrookwood D-Zign Girlz awards ceremony with Harborlight Community Partnershicle to teach empathy. In 2014, a school-wide tool called the 3D Design Problem Bank was created that provides students with the opportunity to become inventors and engineers who create solutions to an online “bank” of teacher-generated problems in need of a design solution.

In April of 2016, teachers Annie Johnson and Rich Lehrer expanded this work into the community with the piloting of “D-Zign Girlz”, a community design project in which a small group of 6th grade girls developed connections and collaborated with residents of a Harborlight Community Partners seniors’ affordable housing complex to create 3D printed assistive technologies. Drawing on the success of this pilot, this year Brookwood has scaled this project to include two more HCP residences and its entire 6th-grade class.

view their project video on PBS  •  learn more about service-learning

Brookwood’s six D-Zign Girlz, along with their instructors Grade 6 science teacher Annie Johnson and Innovation Coordinator Rich Lehrer, are the recipients of Harborlight Community Partners’ 2016 Service Partner Award. The group was recognized at a gala ceremony on November 10 at which State Senator Bruce Tarr, representing the 4th Essex District, presented them with their honors.

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Empowering University Students in Their Own Neighborhood

By Patty Witkowsky, Sylvia Mendez, and Sarah Elsey — University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.

Introduction Empowering students in higher education to use their leadership skills for creating change on campus and in their communities is a powerful learning experience in civic engagement and volunteerism that will serve students and their communities well into the future.

This story describes the creation and implementation of a student-led service learning project at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS) and how it impacted both the participating students and the surrounding community. By responding to both campus town-gown issues as well as community needs following a major fire, the student-driven experience fulfilled multiple goals and contributed to student learning. The initiation by the students also created movement to design a formalized UCCSserves program on the campus. Through data collected following student participation in the projects, as well as interviews with campus and community professionals involved in collaborating with the students, the context and outcomes of this student-driven service learning experience is described. Suggestions are included for capitalizing on student-initiated projects to promote student learning and leadership development and the institutionalization of service-based learning experiences in higher education. Continue reading

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The Science of Citizenship: What’s at Stake When Schools Skimp on Science?

By BELLE BOGGS

ONE OF THE MOST remarkable scenes in Rebecca Skloot’sn work of science journalism, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, happens about halfway through the book, in a smoky Baltimore kitchen. Skloot has been pursuing the reluctant Lacks family for about a year and has finally managed an introduction to Lawrence Lacks, the oldest son of Henrietta and Day Lacks. He cooks eggs and pork chops for Skloot and begins reminiscing about his mother, a strict, pretty woman who died of cervical cancer when he was a young teenager, but soon admits that, at sixty-four, he barely remembers her at all. Instead of memories, photographs, and family anecdotes, he and his siblings have only the ominous stories of her stolen cells: that there are enough of them now to “cover the whole earth,” that they have cured diseases, that they will soon make it possible for humans to live to be eight hundred years old.

After ushering Skloot into the living room with her plate of food, Lawrence asks her to tell him what his mother’s cells (now known in biomedical research as the “HeLa immortal cell line”) “really did,” and Skloot asks him if he knows what a cell is. “Kinda,” he tells her. “Not really.” Skloot writes:

I tore a piece of paper from my notebook, drew a big circle with a small black dot inside, and explained what a cell was, then told him some of the things HeLa had done for science, and how far cell culture had come since.  Continue reading

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Encountering Self and Other in Community-Based Education

By HENRY GOLDSCHMIDT

Dr. Henry Goldschmidt is the Director of Education Programs at the Interfaith Center of New York, where he leads the “Religious Worlds of New York” summer institute for K-12 teachers.

Place-based and community-based educators are united in our efforts to break down the barriers between classrooms and communities — to ground education in experiential, student-centered encounters with the social and natural world. We work to enrich, and perhaps transform, our students’ understandings of history, society, literature, the arts, and the physical sciences by helping them engage with what Michael Umphrey calls simply “the world outside the window” (Umphrey 2007:4). On this I think we all agree. But a number of important questions remain: What, exactly, should we encourage our students to look for outside the classroom window? What aspects of community life should they engage with? And how may we, as educators, best frame this engagement?

Needless to say, there is no single answer to these far reaching questions. Different curricula, students, and school communities call for different forms of engagement with local places and people. But there is a clear trend in the academic literature, and in the practice of place, and community-based educators. For many leading scholars, it seems, community-based education is centered, above all, on students’ engagement with places and people they feel connected to on an intimate, personal basis. As teachers, we often encourage our students to document their own neighborhoods and everyday lives, or chart the histories of their own families and communities. We tend to ask them, in short, to look “outside the window” and find reflections of themselves. Continue reading

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Making Connections Between the Qur’an and Our Values as Educators

LEARNING TO LOVE EDUCATION AGAIN

By STUART GRAUER

Dr. Stuart Grauer is a teacher, the founding Head of School at The Grauer School, and Founder of the Small Schools Coalition. Stuart is a constributing editor for Community Works Journal.

The Qur’an (Anglicized: Koran) for all Muslims stands as the definitive word of God, but it is also is the greatest literary work in classical Arabic. As such, it is of interest not just to religions but to all schools and humanities teachers. Western scholars, including our third president, Thomas Jefferson, have been studying and interpreting the Qu’ran consistently since it was first (reliably) translated into English in the year 1733.

I’m not Muslim, but I have been reading the Qur’an lately, in my role as a scholar and teacher, especially since there is so much reference to it in the news. As a humanities teacher (and writer), I love how it is meant to be read in slow, measured rhythmic tones, like a meditation, and like much great poetic verse. I wish I could read it in Arabic, but alas… Continue reading

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Art By All Means: Revisiting the Legacy of Malcolm X

By MELISSA KANDIDO

There is a point in life when you feel the ground shift under your feet — it can be as slow as shifting dunes in Namibia or as quick as an earthquake caused by tectonic plate shifting in Haiti.

It doesn’t happen in the same way or at the same time for anyone, but it does change the way you look at the world.

For Malcolm (Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, a.k.a. Malcolm X, a.k.a. Malcolm Little), this ground-shifting moment happened when he traveled to Mecca for Hajj and then traveled through the continent of Africa. As an educator, I might not be able to have a field trip as grandiose as a trip to countries in Africa, but I take every unit is a possibility to shift the earth, to change perspective and to let new knowledge shed light on students’ current understanding of the world.

Recently, my 8th grade International Studies II Majors completed a month-long unit about the continent of Africa, its many countries, landforms, cultures and languages with a direct connection to the city in which they live — Omaha, Nebraska through the life story of Malcolm X, who was born here. Students listened to some of his speeches, some of his interviews and examined his quotes. Next, we met with international students from University of Nebraska at Omaha, UNO. These are our year-long partners for multiple service-learning opportunities. Middle school International Studies Majors were partnered with internationals from Germany, Saudi Arabia, Colombia, China, Oman, Japan and Mexico. Students paired by finding the person with the same Malcolm X quote. They discussed what it meant to them, how they understood it and how it would translate into German, Arabic, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese. Continue reading

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A Love Letter to Environmental Educators, My Profession, and My Colleagues

By KARY SCHUMPERT

Kary Schumpert is an environmental educator, a writer, and a student in Albuquerque. She finds her greatest sense of place and inspiration in New Mexico. Kary loves composting with worms, running, hiking, swimming, writing, teaching, and learning, among many things. Kary is a contributing editor to The Community Works Journal and her writing has also appeared in Green Teacher, Elephant Journal, New Leaf Meditation Project, and The Upper Room. She keeps a personal blog at runningintolife.wordpress.com.

Dear Environmental Educators,

I just spent a weekend with some of you at an environmental education conference. After a career change and nine years in this profession, I remain inspired and excited by your example. I also think of the environmental education and educators who first awakened my passion while I studied in college.

You go by many names: naturalist, interpreter, park ranger, classroom teacher, program manager, visitor use specialist, recreational leader, after school program advisor, environmental educator. You do many things. You find excitement in the little things and try to spread that to the masses. You battle shrinking budgets and increasing expectations, yet you don’t waiver. Instead, you dig deep into your soul, you dig deep into your backpack, and you get stronger.

 You find ways to bring new experiences to students, to toddlers, to adults. You lead hikes. You express amazement at finding a rock, ponder its age and what happened, and then you put it back for someone else to discover. Sometimes you tell the names of plants and birds, but sometimes, even when you know, you let others experience first encounters in their own ways. You ask questions and help to spark the curiosity in us all. You stretch so that your programs and activities complement learning on any level. Continue reading

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