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Published: Saturday, 8/17/2013

Schools use community service as a learning tool

BY RONEISHA MULLEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Toledo area high school students in Students in Action participated in this event hosted by Leadership Toledo last fall. Toledo area high school students in Students in Action participated in this event hosted by Leadership Toledo last fall.
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Classes are getting back into session and along with reading, writing, and arithmetic, some Toledo area schools are teaching their students another lesson: the importance of giving back.

As a requirement for graduation, private schools are pushing students out into the community and into a variety of outreach projects that target the poor, homeless, elderly, disadvantaged youth, and others.

At St. John’s Jesuit High School, a service work requirement was designed to encourage students to explore, understand, and address community needs, said Phil Skeldon, the school’s Christian service director.

“We don’t allow them to go back to their church or an agency to lick envelopes. We get them out of their comfort zones,” Mr. Skeldon said. “We’re more interested in our students developing relationships with the people they serve. Specifically, people who are marginalized in the community, whether it be the elderly, those in hospice, or the economically poor.”

By the end of their junior year, students at St. John’s, an all-boys private school in Toledo, must have completed at least 45 hours of service. Seniors are allowed to pick from a variety of service opportunities.

Most service work is done during the school year, with the exception of trips that require extensive travel, including mission trips to Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Appalachia.

“We don’t want service to be something you do over the summer and forget about the rest of the year,” Mr. Skeldon said. “We need to bring out students to a point where they’re asking ‘why [the people we serve] live they way they do and I have it as good as I do.’ That’s what creates change.”

Jonathan Mitchell got a head start on his service work this summer, by tutoring neighborhood students and mowing lawns during a mission trip. The 14-year-old freshman at St. John’s has already signed up for several volunteer projects through the school, including serving meals to central city residents every Monday.

“It makes me feel good when I’m able to help make other people feel good,” said Jonathan of Toledo. “I get to learn something from helping other people.”

Most public schools don’t require service work for graduation, but students as young as elementary school learn the importance of volunteering through classroom lessons and individual class assignments. Their projects differ from those in private or parochial schools because they are generally not required and don’t take place in the summer.

During the summer months, while many high school students are working jobs or relaxing, Carra Gilson donated her time to a number of community service projects. This summer, Carra, a junior at Notre Dame Academy, tutored students and volunteered with the Toledo Yes Project, where the students spend four days scraping, painting, cleaning, and doing landscaping work and any other tasks to improve the living situations of the people they are helping.

“Every time I do a service project, no matter what I’m doing, I’m helping people,” said Carra, 15, of Delta. “I’ve been really blessed in my own life and I feel it’s my job to be a blessing to others.”

At Notre Dame, the service requirement developed from the school’s philosophy on giving back to society, said Sister Jenny Zimmerman, co-director of pastoral services at the all-girls Catholic high school. In addition, the requirement, which has been in place for more than 20 years, helps students with self-discovery.

“Initially it’s something they have to do. It’s a requirement,” Sister Zimmerman said. “Once they get into it they love it. They find gifts they didn’t know they had.”

The girls must complete 100 hours of service before graduation. The work can take place anywhere on campus during a student’s freshman year, at a faith-based institution their sophomore year, and at a nonprofit organization during her junior year. Students can choose their own assignments during their senior year of high school.

“We live in a me-centered world,” Sister Zimmerman said. “This makes them other-centered.”

Contact RoNeisha Mullen at: rmullen@theblade.com or 419-724-6133.



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