Teaching Students to Leave a Legacy


Steve Buzzell and his teaching partner Jeff Grogan are 7th grade teachers at Stowe Middle School in Vermont. They spent a week together at CWI’s Summer Institute on Service-Learning.

In looking back over my notes, and reflecting on the week with Community Works Institute I am amazed at how much we have gone over. This Institute will definitely change what and how I teach, so right there it was worth it!  Looking at my social studies “units” through the sustainability lens is definitely exciting. CWI’s Summer Institute definitely tied into, and reinforced, what I learned in the Placed Based Education class I took earlier in the summer.

The class helped clarify for me the difference between Community Service and Service-Learning. I learned that Service-Learning is really a teaching strategy that combines academics and social education to meet a community’s needs, and that a truly good project will improve the quality of life for all—both current and future generations. That’s really cool! Teaching the kids to leave a legacy.

In the past I have always challenged my students to “Make a Difference”. I believe almost every class has risen to the challenge and undertaken one or more “projects” to give back. Because my curriculum requires me to teach about 19th Century American History, and Africa most of the projects they typically come up with involves Africa. In the past they have raised money and bought medical supplies for an AIDS Orphanage in Lagos, Nigeria, bought Tanzanian mosquito netting to help stop the spread of malaria, sent over shoes to Kenya, clothes and school supplies to Tanzania, and had pen pals in Kenya, to name a few.

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However, one of the most exciting projects, and one that truly will be a legacy project, is the Microlending through KIVA. Microlending is where someone in a developing country, typically a woman, receives a small loan (by Western standards) to help them become more self-sufficient. This program encourages and fosters the “Ideal of Service” in the students, their families, and the Stowe Community. It develops an opportunity for service for everyone, regardless of their ability to pay, providing high ethical standards amongst the students. It also recognizes the worthiness of all useful occupations through their loan selection; and it is providing and encouraging each student and their families with the opportunity to serve a very deserving international society. It also (hopefully) is providing the seeds to promote a lifetime of community service throughout his or her life. In our first year of operation we made twenty loans (mostly to women). The students raised the money through a variety of creative ways. They select, discuss, and approve the loans. They are the loan committee. It is great to see!!! I am the “consultant”.

After the students have learned about banking and business (cash flow, etc.), and how to conduct the meetings, I often just sit on the sidelines. I brought a few of the students to the local Rotary Club to present their project. They have also presented to the entire school, and next year they will be presenting to the school board. However, after this class I have learned the benefit of reflection and celebration, and will include these for the next group of students. We always clap and cheer after a loan is made, but we’ll need to better celebrate the program – maybe have an in class “party” where they research and cook a desert from each country we fund.

Another thing that I learned at CWI’s Summer Institute was the need to (better) consider the “environment” when looking at different events and units. In the past I have had the students look at everything through multiple lenses and perspectives. They memorize the acronym PREMS—Political, Religious, Economic, Military, and Social, and use that to analyze why things happened. I also informally look at the role geography plays, but my acronym will change to SuPREME in order to include environment. I’ll work with the students to come up with what the “u” in it can mean.

I can’t tell you enough how excited Jeff and I are about the Service-Learning project we worked on at the Institute. Here it is Tuesday morning and I woke up early to get to school and work on it. We have been talking for years about ways to better utilize the “trails” behind the school and what to do about the old cellar hole. This class has given us the guidance and opportunity to clarify our thoughts. We can now see how to tie the old abandoned village of Little River State Park into sustainability and it will provide students with a great foundation for the rest of the school year, and beyond! It has opened up a line of communication between the school and the local historical society, and the cemetery commission. It has provided us with another opportunity to get the students outside and to do some meaningful learning. Our goal is to have the students nevermore walk through the woods or a cemetery again the same way. CWI’s Institute has definitely made me a better teacher, and I thank you for it!

Learn more about CWI’s Summer Institutes for K-16 Educators

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Community Works Institute (CWI) provides resources, professional development, and collaboration opportunities for educators. Our focus is on place based education, service learning, and sustainability.
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