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News Item: Homepage

Service Learning at VUSD Impacts Students and the Community

By Cinthya Jones


Robert Crowell, like many teachers and school administrators, has set his sights beyond the four walls of the traditional classroom. This approach, he believes, will prepare his students for what comes after graduation. “Education, in general, has been very inward looking,” he says. 


Robert Crowell helped establish the Service Learning program at Vista Unified School District in 2016, after a pilot program the previous year. Mr. Crowell says he “wanted to create a program that was based on the mission statement that Superintendent Devin Vodicka had just created, to inspire students to persevere as critical thinkers who collaborate to solve real world problems.” 


Service Learning students at Vista Unified School District
Students discuss solutions for a community issue for a Service Learning project.


Service Learning engages students in active learning that demonstrates the relevance and importance of academic work for their life experience and potential career choices. It also increases awareness of current societal issues as they relate to academic areas of interest. Most importantly, Service Learning enhances critical thinking skills, as the students are typically asked to create a solution to a real world problem.


Not to be confused with community service, Service Learning has a more intentional learning component. Students who participate in Service Learning gain first hand insight into  civic responsibility, and play an active role in strengthening their communities. There’s no end to the opportunities that students and teachers might have to engage in improving their community. 


What are Service Learning projects and how are they created? 


Service Learning projects at Vista Unified are designed to solve a problem in the community. Each project has a clear objective that contributes to the common good. Projects can be direct (such as working directly with people or the environment) or indirect (such as providing resources, support, or education to an organization). Past projects have included establishing community gardens at Foothill Oak Elementary, and a Monte Vista Elementary project to reduce fish waste in aquaponic gardens at a local farm.


Service Learning students playing a game at a senior center

A past Service Learning project involving medical terminology games at a local assisted living facility.


Though Service Learning provides students and teachers with plenty of freedom, it also reinforces California's Common Core standards. While there's no set curriculum for the projects, there are many community service opportunities that lend themselves to a wonderful learning experience. 


"Teachers start with the Common Core standards and create a project around those goals," Mr. Crowell explained. The project is framed by a meaningful problem or a question, and developed at the appropriate level of challenge for that particular grade level. 


For instance, at the community garden at Foothill Oak, students were tasked with finding the area and volume of a garden in order to calculate the cubic feet available for planting, as well as finding out just how much soil they were going to need to even get started. Students involved in a project like this aren’t likely to wonder how the math they’re learning will be applicable in their lives -- they’re actually applying it in real life! 


Service Learning students present at a COW project
Students present their solutions for a C.O.W. project.


Another great example of Service Learning was the C.O.W. Project. Roosevelt Middle School U.S. History teacher, Kirsten Turner, and her class collaborated with students from California, Ohio, and Wisconsin to create solutions to real problems they saw plaguing their world. This project allowed students to work with others across the country on a common theme.


Students were asked to choose areas they were passionate about, ranging from substance abuse, animal abuse, pollution, bullying, neighborhood crime and more. As part of the review process, students presented ideas for their products, organizations, or services in a final “Shark Tank” style presentation. Professionals from relevant fields were invited to judge and provide students with feedback on their solutions, as well as their overall presentation skills. 


Service Learning students play medical terminology game
First Responder students playing medical terminology games with seniors at a local assisted living facility.


For a First Responder class at Mission Vista High School, teacher Shahira Raineri tasked her students with creating a medical terminology presentation for residents of a senior assisted living facility. Students created an informational PowerPoint presentation, then used the information from the presentation to engage in several fun activities. 


“The real goal was to teach the students empathy,” Ms. Shahira shared. The students played games, such as Bingo, crosswords, Hangman, and charades that featured the medical terminology from the initial presentation. At the end of their time together, the students and the seniors had a great time playing together, while learning a thing or two from each other.


Service Learning not only provides students of Vista Unified School District with 21st Century skills, it also helps them put those skills to use in a meaningful way. Students learn how to take initiative and responsibility, solve problems, work in teams, communicate their ideas, and manage themselves effectively; all invaluable skills that will serve students throughout their lives.


Posted by: Lisa Contreras, District Admin, Vista Unified School District Published:3/19/18
Audience: Homepage and Homepage