Upper Arlington City Schools News Article

Superintendent's Notes: Service learning a key part of our academic program

Students gathered with Bol Aweng at the 2021 walkathon

Learning new skills and meeting community needs through service-learning is a year-long commitment for our students and our staff — a tradition that stretches back decades in our school district. 

Service learning is an important part of our academic program and whole learning, a priority in the 2021-2024 Strategic Plan for Upper Arlington Schools. It is the first action word in our vision — uniquely accomplished students prepared to serve, lead and succeed — and it speaks to all of our values: start with heart, strength in team and contagious drive. It also gets to the heart of the month of November — a time of giving thanks and giving to others.

Service learning gives students an opportunity to meet a real community need that connects back to what they’re learning in the classroom. They gain an understanding about things that are bigger than themselves and are able to take away a lifelong lesson of the importance of serving others — all while incorporating academic skills in areas such as literacy and language arts, math, science and social studies.

We have incredible service-learning projects unfolding in our schools all the time.  I’ll share a recent example that has a long history in our schools.

The story stretches back two decades and spans three schools — Hastings Middle School, Upper Arlington High School and Jones Middle School, where it started. 

Twenty years ago, Loretta Heigle, then a sixth-grade teacher at Jones, worked with her students on an extensive service-learning project about the “Lost Boys of Sudan.” Driven out of Sudan by civil war in the late 1980s and separated from their families, the Lost Boys, as they became known, were the survivors of a tragic exodus, walking more than a thousand miles to seek refuge in Ethiopia. 

The project at Jones about these survivors sparked interest at the high school and a relationship with two Lost Boys who were then attending The Ohio State University. The high school teachers involved in the project connected many of their curriculum standards to this issue and eventually helped fund a clinic in Sudan. 

That work then sparked the interest of a student at Hastings Middle School, who was the son of one of the high school teachers and encouraged his teachers to create a service-learning project on this topic at Hastings.

Now, 20 years after the original project at Jones, Hastings continues this service-learning tradition each fall with the sixth-grade class and Bol Aweng, one of the Lost Boys, to support the Buckeye Clinic in Sudan and further medical support for the people there. This is the seventh year for the service-learning project at Hastings. Students read books in language arts class about the Lost Boys and South Sudan and watch videos about the current situation in South Sudan, and then the project culminates in a walkathon to raise money to support the Buckeye Clinic.

This year, Upper Arlington High School broadcast journalism students and teacher Amanda Fountain have come on board to tell the story of this 20-year service-learning partnership. This gives the high school students real-world learning experience, supports their academic growth and, for some of them, takes them back to what they learned as sixth-graders working on this project at Hastings.

We have many, many more incredible examples of service-learning projects like this happening in our schools. It is wonderful to see our students growing as learners and deepening their commitment to service through projects like these.

Paul Imhoff is superintendent of Upper Arlington Schools. Follow him on Twitter @imhoffpaul.

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