Service learning class engages students in learning

By Corey AmEnde - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Fri., Nov. 8, 2013
(Front, l-r): Vivian Hudson, Vanessa Hudson, Anthony Beaulieu, Ivelyse Smith, (back) Justice Ashe, Shannon Blenis and Sophia Snow are part of the Youth Leadership 101: Introduction to Service Learning class.  Photos by Corey AmEnde.
(Front, l-r): Vivian Hudson, Vanessa Hudson, Anthony Beaulieu, Ivelyse Smith, (back) Justice Ashe, Shannon Blenis and Sophia Snow are part of the Youth Leadership 101: Introduction to Service Learning class. Photos by Corey AmEnde.

A small, eager group of middle school students huddled around a table, each with a colored marker in their hand. They took turns writing ideas for service projects on a large piece of white paper during a recent Youth Leadership 101: Introduction to Service Learning class.

“We were just brainstorming on different ideas for a project to help out the community,” said Anthony Beaulieu, a seventh-grader at Illing Middle School. Some of the ideas that were born out of the session centered on the upcoming holiday season.

“We were talking about food drives or maybe donating toys to some organizations where they could give those to kids whose parents might not have money to buy presents for them,” said Vanessa Hudson, a sixth-grader at Bennet Academy.

This may sound like work – and it is – but these kids are all participating on their own accord and having fun doing it. “We're basically extending the learning day into the evening, beyond the classroom in a really hands-on, active way where I'm sure the kids feel that they're learning but they're having a blast,” said instructor Shannon Blenis.

“We're learning but we're having fun doing it, so the time goes by really fast so it's not boring but it's kind of fun,” said Vivian Hudson, a sixth-grader at Bennet and Vanessa's twin sister.

“We're trying to figure out a project to do to help out the community and make an impact,” said Justice Ashe, an eighth-grader at Illing Middle School.

The class meets every Wednesday night from 6 to 8 p.m., at the East Side Neighborhood Resource Center on Spruce Street. The sessions began on Oct. 9 and will run through Dec. 18. The course is open to students in grades six through nine and currently has 11 students enrolled in it.

Beaulieu said he was interested in learning about how to be of service to others. “I did one of the classes last year and I kind of liked it, so I did this one,” he said.

Blenis said the goal of the class is to introduce the students to service learning, to allow them to have a strong youth voice, to select and implement a project and then reflect on it. “I'm simply here to guide them, basically just as a facilitator in bringing them along in what they need to know,” said Blenis.

The session culminates with the execution of a service project, and what makes this class so unique is that the students are really driving the process. “So whether they need to make phone calls, they need to write e-mails, they need to do research, they really become experts on the topic that they’re working on,” said Blenis, who has extensive service learning background. Blenis said the first few sessions were focused on team building to bring the group together and the presentation of a lot of information.

“The information was presented in a fun, positive, engaging way," Blenis said. The session is based on four main pillars of service learning – preparation, action, reflection and celebration. Blenis said the reflection component of the class is what makes it so powerful, "because they remember how they feel - not what people told them, not what people said to them, it's how this program of helping people and helping the community makes them feel," he reiterated. 

In addition to acquiring service learning skills, the students are also honing other disciplines such as leadership and language arts. The last week of October they had to present oral reports which helped them work on their public speaking skills. “They're going to be able to take this stuff back into the classroom because they're engaged in it, they're actively participating in it,” said Blenis. 

For more information on the class, call the office of Neighborhoods and Families at 860-647-3089.

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