Learning Civic Responsibility by Asking and Doing

Lee Elementary is looking good, and its second graders are doing good with the help of their teacher, Nathan Fischer, after he attended a service learning academy.

Service learning combines community service with classroom learning to teach civic responsibility. Studies have shown it can increase students’ attendance, participation, grades and test scores, and confidence.

The 2013 Fisher Training program required Fischer to develop a service-learning proposal to take back to his classroom. His proposal involved students beautifying the Middleville community. The Grand Rapids Youth Advisory Committee, which participated in the training, gave Fischer a grant of $175 to pay for the project.  

Students started by interviewing community members to gather information about different needs in Middleville. A list was developed, and they selected improving the landscaping by the Lee Elementary school sign. Next, they created a plan, called a local landscaping company for advice, and got approval from the school grounds manager. The students had to put together a budget, determine what materials they needed and shop for the products.

“It was really cool when we were planning. We got to call the grounds crew and the lady who owned the plant store,” said Landon Conroy, a student in the class. “I also really liked how we got to look up stuff on the Lowe’s website and decide what we needed. The project made me feel good because I am helping the community, and everyone will get to see our great work.” 

The final step involved sprucing up the Lee Elementary sign and planting flower bulbs around the school grounds. “The service learning project was fun because we got to pick things out and plant them,” said Ainsley Parsons, another student in the class. “I think it really makes our school look beautiful.”

Fischer spent three and a half days at the academy, learning how to teach service-learning and philanthropy in the classroom. “It was a great experience for everyone,” Fischer said. “The students were empowered and really had a voice in the decision-making process of this project. They really felt connected to their community and wanted to do their best to make it even more beautiful.” 

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Lee Elementary

Linda Odette
Linda Odette is a freelance writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism. She’s worked primarily as an editor in feature departments at newspapers in West Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Press, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Holland Sentinel. She lives in East Grand Rapids near the Eastown edge, has a teenage son and a daughter in college. Read Linda's full bio

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