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CWI’s Summer Institutes on Service-Learning and Sustainability —Los Angeles, California and Burlington, Vermont

Join K-16 and community educators, from across the U.S. and international schools, for a week of expert training, and inspiring curriculum design work. A unique opportunity to dig deep into service-learning and sustainability and how to use it most effectively with your students. This is your opportunity to move your classroom curriculum or school program to the next level. learn more

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“Vacancy is Where Great Things Happen”


Shawn is an Academic Support Instructor at Cushing Academy, in Massachusetts, and an alumnus of Community Works Institute (CWI).

I work (and live) at a boarding prep school in Massachusetts. Over the first two years that I worked there and taught the Community Service course, it has become apparent that because many of our students are not members of the local community, it’s hard for them (and us as a school) to establish a sense of place outside of campus. My work has involved bringing the learning piece to the service.

This also impacts the sustainability of our program. For many years the program has been a course that no one really “owned”. We don’t have a dedicated Service-Learning position, which leaves much of the outreach to whoever is teaching the course each semester. I’m lucky that I have experience with service-learning and establishing relationships with community resources. I was able to create a relationship with the local elementary school’s after school program twice a week. We just finished up our second year there, but there isn’t a consistent leader, which has created problems on site. So I was intent on finding a teaching strategy, philosophy, and/or methodology that I can implement at Cushing Academy. And, I found it! Continue reading

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Place as the Context has Become a New Mantra for Me in My Teaching


Ciara is the education director for The Cathedral of St. Philip, in Atlanta, Georgia, and an alumnus of CWI’s Summer Institute on Service-Learning.

I went into CWI’s Summer Institute fairly blind; I was filling in for my supervisor who has a lot more experience as an educator and community leader. I was not sure what I would gain or what the week would hold.

My week with Community Works Institute was really an invaluable experience for my spirit. I was energized by the company of educators who have dedicated their work to collaborating with their communities to create positive change. I work at a large, wealthy parish that can often feel disconnected from the larger city of Atlanta. The teachers who attended the Summer Institute were from a wide variety of public schools, average to wealthy private schools, and universities. I was encouraged to know their work was not isolated within the walls of their own institutions. Continue reading

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A Shared Mission for Every Student and Every Teacher


Jonny is the Director of Service-Learning at Campbell Hall School in Los Angeles and is an alumnus of CWI’s Summer Institute on Service-Learning and Sustainability.

Wow. What a week! I’m not sure how to fully reflect on such a rich experience in summary form, but maybe a loose, informal reflection will still be helpful. I came into my week at CWI’s Summer Institute knowing very little about service-learning or education for sustainability. The only real experience I had was in place-based learning through outdoor education, so I was very familiar with learning about nature while in natural settings.

Before the Summer Institute I would have categorized “outdoor education” experience as essentially and intrinsically different from service-learning. Now I can’t help but think that the complete learning experience almost has to include service-learning, education for sustainability, and be place-based. I look back on my experience in so many different schools growing up and realize now that all the most impactful and memorable learning experiences I had included those three elements. I now realize that to treat community, place, and the greater goal of a sustainable relationship with our planet and all its inhabitants as separate from academic pursuits is to do one’s students, and one’s community, a great disservice. I also see that all complete education integrates the story of the individual learner, the story of their community, the environment, the greater story of the Earth, humanity at large, and the universe itself. This allows for a deeper understanding on the part of the learner as to where they fit in the big picture, and perhaps even what their purpose in the greater story might be. Continue reading

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Mapping the Neighborhood: Experiential Learning as a Survival Skill


I’ve been teaching in the MacArthur Park/Westlake district of Los Angeles for ten years and have worked with a host of immigrant families. Most of them are from Mexico, and some of them have migrated from other cities and states in the U.S. 90% of the population at MacArthur Park Elementary School is Latino and the rest are a mix of White, African American, and Filipino. All of the families who attend the school are living below the poverty line.

MacArthur Park/Westlake district of Los Angeles considered by some to be a rough neighborhood. But I don’t see it that way. I can’t afford to. I began my career in LAUSD ten years ago when the school was MacArthur Park Primary Center. I was desperate for a job after leaving a charter school that was about to lose their charter So I taught English to a class of Spanish speakers whose parents opted for English immersion, not dual language.

The next year with the teacher layoff cycle, I was bumped across the street to Charles White Elementary School, previously home to Otis Art and Design. I taught 4th and 5th grade for five years and was handed the most challenging students because of low seniority. During those years I became the teacher I am today because experiential learning was my survival skill. I couldn’t teach without building on the interests of my students. One boy had a fascination with snakes, so we got a terrarium with two corn snakes. The classroom became a mini-zoo where students would bring their pets to class for a week, and we conducted research and generated investigations based on their inquiry. Charles White is also an arts-based school. One of the most interesting projects we did came out of a LACMA partnership. Marissa Dowling, a visiting photographer from London sent the students around MacArthur Park with cameras to take photos of things they found interesting. The photographs were a blend of artifacts and human interest stories. We had a gala with the Mayor in the LACMA annex museum on our campus. Continue reading

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Using Art and Service-Learning for Social Change in Los Angeles


Aida is a teaching artist in Los Angeles, and an alumnus of CWI’s Summer WEST Institute, and a member of LA RiverLore’s teacher cohort. Aida’s goals include encouraging her students to get directly involved, beginning with establishing communication with law makers and people in charge of the LA River revitalization effort. She is working with her students to make positive change by going through the process required to propose and ultimately design and install public art.

I feel super excited to call myself an alum of an Institute with such important work. The ideas that were expanded on in this week of exploration will have to be constantly refined and understood in my practice as a teaching artist. I will have to continuously expand on them experientially throughout my artistic community practice now. Being a part of CWI’s Institute made me proud of the work I do and has inspired me to continue my work in community engagement through the arts. Service-learning, sustainability and place-based learning are all in the utopic vision for arts education. Taking CWI’s Institute was a reminder of the importance these factors have on deep learning experiences beyond what the classroom has to offer.

CWI’s Institute connected me with many tools, resources and models to strengthen these roles in my planning and in building in more moments for student lead, service based opportunities in lessons and projects and modeling and teaching sustainable habits for healthy communities. Continue reading

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It’s Time for More of Us to Be Heroes of Brain Diversity

Cover, test, and sort

One-size-fits-all instructional design eats brain diversity for lunch. When seeking personalized learning for a student with unique learning needs, you may confront educators who don’t understand learning differences, refuse to differentiate based on need, fail to follow written plans for instruction, or create bureaucratic obstacles and barriers for your child. Once and a while you find heroes, women and men who go way beyond the norm and stick out their necks to serve a student with different learning needs.

You work your way through the system, standing up for your rights when needed, and thanking those who lend a hand. But challenging the system can be a long and perplexing process. Often unquestioned along the way are the underlying assumptions of the system. Continue reading

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Making Sustainability and Service-Learning Mesh in the Classroom


Natalie currently teaches a second and third grade combination in Burlington, Vermont. She previously taught as a math Title I educator at Edmunds Middle School and in the second grade at Edmunds Elementary School, both located in Burlington, Vermont. Natalie originally graduated from Saint Michael’s College (SMC) with a Business Degree. Knowing that her real passion in life was education, she subsequently returned to SMC to do graduate work and her Elementary Teaching Licensure. Natalie feels very fortunate to be in Burlington where there is a richness of experience and diversity of background contained in the student population. Natalie is an alumnus of CWI’s Summer EAST Institute on Service-Learning.

A major theme of sustainability is improving the quality of life for all. One way in which my classroom is going to improve the quality of life for all is through a service-learning project that I planned during my time at CWI’s Summer EAST Institute on Service-Learning. The project I have designed aligns with the first history unit I will be delivering, “North Street Then and Now.” Over the course of the unit students will learn about the history of North Street, the street on which their school is located. North Street is located in Burlington’s North End, an area with rich cultural diversity and history but also traditionally an economically challenged area of the city.

I am a 2nd and 3rd grade teacher at the Sustainability Academy in Burlington, Vermont. The Sustainability Academy is the nation’s first K-5 magnet school with a sustainability theme. The Sustainability Academy is one of a kind in that sustainability is integrated into our curriculum, campus practices and culture.

At our school, we engage young citizens to make a difference in the community by exploring our diverse society, our local economy and the environment through hands-on projects. Sustainability is a shared responsibility for improving quality of life for all, economically, socially and environmentally, now and for future generations. Every day students experience the theme of sustainability. Students explore their community, learn about food and nutrition by visiting local farms and gardens, help build a school garden, compost in the classroom and cafeteria, recycle and eat locally grown food. Continue reading

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The Essence of Social Learning: From Classroom to Community


I began my teaching career as an outdoor educator, leading and engaging small groups in hands-on, community-building activities. After working with a group of kids for just one week at a time, some of them gave me thank-you letters that told me I changed their lives. Many of these kids had never spent a week away from home or walked in the woods at night or held a squirming salamander. Their boundaries had been pushed, but in a safe place, and they had become stronger for it.

After working as a teacher-naturalist for a couple of years, I decided to go to graduate school and hone my skills in the classroom. My first assignment as a student-teacher was in a traditional middle school in a poor, rural community. After working in the woods with lots of creative freedom, I knew the move to the classroom would be somewhat rocky. But the transition wasn’t merely difficult, it was downright shocking. Continue reading

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Motivating and Engaging Our Students Through Service


Nicole is the Service-Learning and CAS coordinator at the American School of the Hague in the Netherlands. She is an alumnus of CWI’s Summer Institute on Service-Learning.

Since the week I spent at CWI’s Summer Institute in the picturesque and ever so inspiring setting of Vermont, I have reflected much more about place as the context and service-learning as the approach to (further) develop sustainable communities. The Institute was ideal in order to get a dose of ‘nature therapy’ and work collaboratively with a mix of professionals across the education community spectrum. We were all able to effectively mesh our service-learning frame of reference with each other in order to help create a ‘bigger picture’.

During the institute, I also experienced the importance of working professionally with ‘study group’ networks. Each member was given the opportunity to air a challenge that he/she faced and receive constructive feedback from the other members. What I found, (which I did not initially expect but which now seems obvious to me), was that it was just as beneficial to receive the feedback as it was to offer it to each member of the group. I made the connection that feeling that your input is valued is somewhat similar to how students feel while working collaboratively with others on service-learning initiatives. Suggesting ideas to explore, offering comments or possible solutions, sharing personal experiences, or asking more questions to gain a better perspective helps us get or stay invested. This team approach keeps us focused, invigorated, intrinsically motivated and energized, just as our students feel when they are involved in meaningful and worthwhile service-learning experiences. Continue reading

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Educators Finding Power in Collaboration and Mutual Support


With CWI’s annual Summer Institutes on Service-Learning and Sustainability now well into their third decade, we’ve been privileged to share the work with educators from an incredibly diverse set of experiences and backgrounds.

Most teachers or administrators can’t afford the “luxury” of networking with peers if real planning is not taking place. CWI’s Summer Institutes provide a way for both needs to be accomplished in a powerful design lab atmosphere. In the words of Abbie Andrews, a CWI alum and French teacher from New Hampshire, “The Institute reaffirmed my hope that there really are people and organizations out there that are not simply idealistically chipping away at insurmountable challenges to “save the world; they are methodically, carefully, thoughtfully planning and implementing ways that our communities and environments can survive and sustain. It wasn’t just ideas, it was action.”

We’ve all struggled sometimes to bring tight focus and real action to our pedagogical beliefs and goals—goals that in the right setting ring clear as a bell but are often infinitely harder to work out back “home” when reality sets in at our respective schools. We do our best work when we have the power of supportive colleagues to amplify and ground the significance of what we truly wish to be about as educators. And we do our best thinking, learning, and planning work when we are collectively focused on creating a plan of action that actually works—surrounded by colleagues who share our vision and are ready to help us put our vision into practice. That, in essence is what CWI’s Summer Institutes are all about. The Summer Institutes represent a unique opportunity to create real and powerful projects, programs, and curriculum in a safe and supportive atmosphere of supportive colleagues. Colleagues with experience who are equally invested in our success—real projects that work in the real world that we teach in, this is what we are collectively about.

After three decades now, we also know that there are a vast number of educators out there who want and need to be connected to something larger than themselves and know that this will invaluably support their work with students. Join us this summer, in Los Angeles or Vermont. Your colleagues are waiting for you. learn moreregister now

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