What is Service Learning?

This year in our Advanced Placement Spanish classes, we are implementing WE Service Learning. Separate and distinct from community service or volunteering, service learning is rooted in the classroom, includes a reflective component, and reinforces a student’s ability to apply his or her learning to a real world setting. As their teacher, my role is to enable students to learn about local, national, and global issues, and to help them find ways they can make a positive contribution. Not only will students learn to apply academic learning to real-life settings and situations, they will enhance their leadership and social skills, critical-thinking abilities, and civic engagement. They will also understand the role they can play in making a meaningful impact on local and global issues.
There are two service learning topics assigned specifically to AP Spanish: Poverty and Education and Changes in the Natural Environment. Each class will take steps to investigate and learn about their topic, make an action plan, take action, and report and celebrate their work on their specific topic. Students have already begun to investigate their topics from a broad perspective globally, nationally, and locally.

Recently students researching Poverty and Education worked to understand national poverty guidelines as well as the minimum wage standard chart for each state. They researched poverty in our city and were challenged to make a budget for a family of five based on a minimum wage salary, which is $2,514.00 monthly, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They asked and answered questions like, “What are the consequences of a budget based on minimum wage?” “What are the challenges of maintaining a family on a minimum wage salary?” “How would my life change if my family’s resources were limited to minimum wage?” As they continue their research they will investigate local and global impacts of poverty, poverty and access to education, poverty around the world, and future concerns and solutions.

Even though students are currently in the investigate and learn step of their service learning topics, they frequently jump to action ideas they could implement locally and globally. Students researching Changes in the Natural Environment are already dreaming of implementing unique recycling solutions they’ve learned while studying Costa Rica’s success in recycling and limited carbon footprint. They’ve learned that according to the Costa Rica Institute of Electricity (ICE), Costa Rica’s energy has come from renewable sources since 2014, where they generate 98.53 percent of their electricity using their rivers, volcanoes, and wind and solar power. According to Costa Rica’s Ministries of Health and Environment and Energy along with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Costa Rica is also working to become the first carbon-neutral country by the year 2020 and to eliminate single use plastics by the year 2021. As students continue their research they will investigate global and local changes in the natural environment, learn how to examine authentic resources regarding environmental change, identify causes and effects, and research future concerns and solutions.

A valuable thinking tool for both classes is creating a problem tree. As students view the roots of the tree they ask questions like, “Why does this problem exist?” “What are the causes behind the causes?” They learn that most often there are multiple factors that contribute to the problem. The trunk of the tree is the key problem itself, Changes in the Natural Environment or Poverty and Education. The branches and roots are the results created by the problem. At first they may seem easy to address, but often when branches and leaves are cut off, they grow back quickly. Students are asked to consider the consequences of the consequences and to always ask the question, “What happens afterwards?” This tool will help students as they move forward to create an action plan that contributes positively to both local and global communities.

I look forward to the action plans our students will implement this year! They may implement a direct service action, where they engage and provide a hands-on service for those in need; an indirect service action, where they channel resources and support the needs of a community; or an advocacy action, where they educate others about an issue to increase visibility with a focus on enacting change. In my very biased opinion these students are incredibly creative and smart, and they have the ability to genuinely change the world for the betterment of others. And although it may be obvious, it’s good to remember that all of their work is being done in Spanish.

I am excited and challenged by adding WE Service Learning to AP Spanish this year. I’m hopeful that it will be another step in the formation of our Trinity graduates as those who will attain academic excellence, embrace diversity, demonstrate intellectual curiosity, appreciate the arts, value physical well-being, serve their community, and exemplify Christian living. Service learning and learning another language reflect several of the markers of a portrait of a Trinity graduate. I am especially encouraged by their reflection of exemplifying Christian living. Personally I believe learning another language requires love, humility and hard work. It says to the other, I want to understand you, I want to listen to you, I want to communicate with you–you, your culture, and your community are important to me. In the same way, I believe service learning requires compassion, humility, and hard work for the benefit of another, all which can be found in Christ’s never ending love, humility, and work on our behalf.

Marietta Liebengood
Upper School Spanish Teacher