A new bill passed this legislative session established grant funding for schools to incorporate service-learning into K-12 education. 32 eligible partnerships will receive $50,000 each to provide student-designed, student-led service-learning opportunities.
Service-learning provides students with opportunities for education and community service both in and outside the classroom. The grant money can be used to fund learning opportunities that are informed by the skills and interests of youth. Service-learning allows students to apply their knowledge and skills to help solve community problems and address community opportunities. It also encourages student civic engagement, exposes them to possible career pathways, and builds career and college readiness.
Michael Houston is a math teacher at Harding High School. Houston was named the 2023 Minnesota Teacher of the Year. He says he’s witnessed the impact of applying real-world scenarios to curriculum in the classroom. Houston says it kept his classes connected through the pandemic.
“Our kids have dealt with a lot of trauma since the pandemic. Losing a loved one to COVID, a family member losing a job, or just being cooped up inside. This had a lot of effect on our students and we see that as we came back over the last couple years,” said Houston. “I wanted to reinvent what I did in the classroom. And so during distance learning, I started drafting the things I wanted my students to know. The first unit that I thought about was taxes. Then I followed that up with a retirement unit. It snowballed from there. I got really positive feedback from our students after COVID. By bringing that financial literacy lens, it helped keep those students engaged with what I was teaching.”
Houston says with equity being a large conversation in the education realm, diversifying the opportunities in which a student can learn is crucial. He says service-learning and real-world connections to the curriculum supports the long-term well-being of the “alternative” student.
“The biggest issue with our Black and Brown community is not having the same financial sense as white people. We don't have that equal footing that our white counterparts have. Exposing them to things to help keep them financially literate, it can actually change the community and change their family tree in the long run,” Houston reflected. “I'm not saying that the theory – the abstract part of mathematics – isn't important. Those kids that want to pursue college, that's good for them. But not everyone is made for college. There's students that want to go directly to the workforce, or maybe want to pursue a trade. They'll have that same expectation to perform well in the classroom, but it's okay for them to know how to contribute to a retirement fund and learn to do their taxes, if they decide to go directly to the workforce.”
Ultimately, Houston says the success of engagement and service learning opportunities depends on the teacher.
“I always wanted to be the teacher that I wanted and needed. And that was someone that cared about the whole student. School is for everybody. It's not just for the high-fliers. It is to be a place for everyone to feel a sense of belonging, and to develop as a whole. Our kids just need love overall. If they feel loved, if they feel like we're there for them, they'll come back. Obviously, school is important, but I think that it's important that they feel their teachers and staff and the community as a whole love them and support them, so that they feel more engaged and feel more connected to school overall.”