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Making Civics Real Workshop 6: Civic Engagement  
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Workshop 6

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Teacher Perspectives: Service learning sequence

Bill Mittlefehldt: It’s a requirement at Anoka High School [that] before you graduate you have to do 10 hours of service. We’re the only school in the district that has that requirement. Service can be simple—shovel somebody’s walk after a blizzard. See a problem and generate the solution. We move it up the cognitive and affective continuum through the four years to be something where they’re applying their skills and knowledge to understand problems and then actually work on solutions. It grows over the four years to become more powerful and autonomous. Service learning varies in complexity. Some of the ninth-graders who come in and are ready to do service will often do what they’re told, either through their faith community, their parents, civic groups, whatever. They go to a site, they do some service that’s outside of the school, and hopefully they have a learning experience about serving something larger than themselves. We’re trying to use this to grow their characters to understand there’s something bigger at stake, basically the American republic. Over the four years in our high school program, we get them to involve themselves in more and more challenging venues of service. A couple of these kids have already presented at the state level and some of the people who have presented at the state level will go on next year and maybe do lobbying in Washington, D.C. Our kids have presented at the U.N. in New York, and they’ve presented before the House Budget Committee in Congress.

Ninth Grade: We begin in ninth grade with the government class. The kids study the Federal government and the state government and understand that they are responsible for adding to the quality of life in their community. That’s pretty much a standard government class but the kids are engaged in a project called an MMP, Minnesota Public Policy Project, where they have to analyze a public issue and make a presentation in their classes. That kind of sets the groundwork to apply knowledge and understanding and demonstrate skills. In ninth grade, kids begin the process that includes a little service. Generally, they end up doing things through their faith community, through organizations that they belong to, or specific government or civic activities that the teacher asks them to attend. They get credit, just by becoming a more informed citizen.

10th Grade: In 10th grade, the kids get into U.S. government. That’s a required course. Again, they study the whole panoply of U.S. history, and there are research projects. A number of our kids participate in what’s called the History Day National competition and we’ve done very well over the last years.

11th Grade: In 11th grade, they go into the emergence of modern global societies--basically the world since 1900. Those kids who start taking initiative in their 11th grade year end up doing gangbuster projects in their senior year. This year, we’ve had a number of teams who have worked with the Minnesota state legislature. They get service credit for that, but it’s also related to this four-year sequence of learning activities that generally grabs the kids wherever they are and challenges them to take their skills and their applications up another notch. 11th-graders begin to take initiative, and now, as their adolescent identity is getting stronger, they realize that they are the center of some action and initiative. They have some courage and creativity to share. Some of the juniors are taking hold and saying, “This is my community. This is my river. This is my land. I am going to make a difference.” It’s very powerful. It’s more than just doing what you’re asked to serve your community. It’s assuming some responsibility to initiate part of the solution to some of your persistent community problems.

12th Grade: In 12th grade, they take both a required economics class and a required law class. It’s usually in the 11th- and 12-grade classes that the teachers involve them in projects where the students have to take some initiative and demonstrate their civic competencies. When they get into it, they enjoy it because it displays their leadership and their creativity.

The kids who are doing service in 11th and 12th grade are often doing it in association with projects where they feel they’re making a contribution. That’s what we’re after, and that’s what I think Jefferson and Franklin had in mind. In the American republic, it says you need a new kind of citizen, which the world hadn’t seen much of by 1776. You need a citizen who can bridge the differences and come together with a sense for a shared hope and a common ground. American kids really need that. But it takes four years to change that psyche from the inherent immaturity of a ninth-grader to the 12th-graders who are ready to be global citizens and assume their responsibility for fixing the system if it’s broken.

Our school board and our school district have a strong emphasis on character development. We specifically feel that the critical importance of that is to stop and wait for the kids to initiate [their plan]. This goes across all ability levels, too, from your most gifted kids down to kids who have very special learning needs. We wait until they respond, and then we try and hook them up with learning resources in the community. That’s where we see the growth of autonomous learning. We think in order to monitor character development, you have to hold the kids responsible and measure their increments of success. Service learning is a key factor in character development.

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