Amid the numerous reports, national and local comparisons, and varied opinions about the purpose and progress of American schools, I rarely read one that describes how we are succeeding or failing on matters of student participation in their community. The lessons of individual contribution, participation, and personal commitment required for a community to flourish have been the hallmark of best civics lessons taught over the past two hundred years in schools.
In High School District 214 such lessons are repeatedly learned and demonstrated by thousands of our youth who give of themselves as a way of giving back to the communities in which they live. Through service learning activities, students learn how to meet actual community needs. They participate in such activities as paint-a-thons for senior citizens and walkabouts for a variety of health fundraising efforts. Some students participate in short term projects involving a week or more. Examples are computer training for older adults or food drives. Other long term projects provide opportunity for high school students such as assisting teachers in elementary schools through tutoring, sponsoring activities, and playing a big sister/big brother role to little ones. In one of our alternative schools, students give one-half-day, every day, serving people in senior centers, residential care facilities, elementary schools, and nursery schools. This year, the students at another school have completed more than one million hours of student participation in service projects which have been enjoyed by many thousands of young and old citizens.
Every school in District 214 provides its students with opportunities to participate in service learning activities, but that’s not the end. Many students respond to world, state, and local needs. At one school, students take time from their summer plans and travel to another state to participate in Habitat for Humanity. At yet another school, large numbers of students help feed the homeless and also prepare one of the area’s largest benefits to collect money for cancer research. At each of our schools, students have shown time and time again that their hearts are large and that they are willing to contribute time and resources in order to be good citizens of their community and nation as evidenced by holiday food basket collections which go on at all of our high schools.
Helping students participate in such activities builds character, expands their interests, brings about harmony, and gives them an important role and sense of independence. Students tell us that they believe in improving their community, and that caring for people who are less fortunate is a way for them to communicate that youth should be taken seriously because they care and because they have much to give. In short, our youth are a bridge to the future. As the superintendent of District 214, I feel exceptionally positive about our future because this generation is proving themselves as good citizens. What better promise is there for tomorrow?