May 7, 1998
Signe Wilkinson

Learning gets real with service

Guest Opinion

T his spring, the Board of Education will vote on new promotion and graduation requirements for our children. While it's easy to get lost in the policy dialogue, as a teacher at Mayer Sulzberger Middle School, I feel the most important component of these requirements is service learning.

Service-learning projects allow students to apply skills learned in the classroom to reality-based projects. Reality-based projects give our students the skills to knowledgeably and creatively confront the challenges in society. By working to improve the quality of life and increasing learning opportunities for all, citizenship becomes an even more powerful tool by which academics and service learning are integrated.

University-assisted schools is how I became initiated into a service-learning project close to my heart -- "The Mill Creek: An Urban Study in the Power of Place." This project began in the fall of 1996, under the expert guidance of professor Anne Spirn of the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Architecture. Her students and those from my eighth-grade class were unsure and unsteady at the start, but as is usually the case, high expectations cultivated high-quality results.

Through the academic study of the Mill Creek area's political and social history, demographics and geography, Sulzberger and Penn students have created award-winning, outstanding and creative concepts for future ecological and architectural development of the neighborhood.

Every student, college and middle school, met the unexpected and expected challenges of service learning, many exceeding our admittedly high expectations. Our Mill Creek Project has become a national model for the benefits of reality-based learning. Gov. Ridge and the state General Assembly honored our students with a standing ovation during the governor's 1998 budget address as Sulzberger students dazzled the Assembly with their computer and World Wide Web programming expertise. In addition, the Mill Creek Project was highlighted at the 1997 and 1998 Kellogg Conference at the University of Pennsylvania.

More important, service learning has created a strong rallying ground for all members of the Mill Creek community. Educators respect the rigorous academic research used by the students, students are excited about working "hands on" in their own community and the community is revitalized by a resurgence of pride. The Mill Creek Project has been win, win, win for all. Glenn T. Campbell teaches eighth grade at Mayer Sulzberger Middle School in West Philadelphia.

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