Opinion
Education CTQ Collaboratory

Community Service in Schools: From Feeling Good to Feeling Empowered

By Chiquita Toure — October 17, 2016 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A couple of years ago, I used to ponder a question. As an educator, how could I emphasize and model empathy, compassion, and service in such a self-centered, social-media influenced society? Reading about the problems of the world and soothing our consciences through poster boards and PowerPoint presentations to bring awareness was not enough. More specifically, how could I use my role as a school librarian to teach our students those values, and then help awaken them to current, challenging issues by collaborating with other local and global communities? Without even realizing it, the answer was right in front of me.

At that time, I was an adviser of the Principal’s Ladies Club, an organization of young women at our school. We focused on etiquette, leadership, and community service. Our projects made us feel good about lending a helping hand to the community and earned accolades for our students. However, these achievements never fully represented the mission or possibilities of the organization.

What could I do to help? Somehow, I had overlooked the connection between my role as a librarian and an empowered learner and the collaboration opportunities between the school and our larger communities. The school curriculum was a set of tools to teach students and meet their academic needs; however, there were other potential opportunities to influence students, both personally and socially. Of course, they needed concrete ways to demonstrate growth, hard work, and discipline, but I wanted to help them increase their understanding of the world around them. Students needed to experience more than simply “feel-good moments”—I felt that was part of my role as an educator.

So last year, our young women’s organization set out to become empowered. Our students wanted to affect change in local and global communities. We sponsored several activities, including a visit to the Ronald McDonald House, numerous bake sales, a mentor day at a middle school, a movie night, and several career café days. But, there were two events that proved to be the most impactful because we strengthened our efforts through collaboration with other organizations, and we developed compassion for marginalized populations.

Knowledge and Action

Our first project involved a collaboration with The Twin Rivers, Ohio, chapter of the Links Incorporated, a national service learning organization dedicated to women’s empowerment. Since our geographic location was listed among the top 10 locations for human trafficking, we knew this was an important, timely topic. We held a conference at our school for all young women in grades 9-12. Preparation for the conference included conducting surveys, researching information, organizing the program, and contacting guest speakers who were experts in the fields of law enforcement, social work, and self defense. Afterwards there were small-group discussions led by student leaders and adult volunteers.

Before the conference, we distributed a survey to find out what students already knew about the topic, and if increased learning would motivate them to action. While our student leaders were somewhat informed about this topic, they definitely expanded their knowledge during the various presentations. The attendees learned how human trafficking has been redefined to include not only vulnerable women from afar or those who play fictional roles in movies, but also those who live within our own communities. Presenters shared ways to identify red flags and unhealthy relationships that can serve as catalysts for human trafficking. Perhaps the most powerful part of the conference was the final presentation by a survivor. In follow-up evaluations, our student leaders acknowledged that their classmates learned a lot, and they requested future empowerment sessions.

Our second project was a global effort that included collaboration with C.G. Women’s Empowerment, a locally based, global organization led by Dureti (Mimi) Tadesse, a native of Ethiopia who now lives in the Columbus, Ohio, area. Through this organization, Mimi offers resources and services to neglected women and children in rural Oromia, Ethiopia. Our introduction to the organization included meeting the director who shared her passion for generating revenue for women living in poverty. The funds are used to promote entrepreneurship by helping women develop small businesses to take care of their families.

Beyond School Walls

One student from our young women’s organization was so moved by the presentation that she interned in the field and developed a series of marketing materials and literature to educate others about the work that’s necessary to help women earn wages to support their families. She became a global collaborator who understood the power of building communities. As a result of her internship, we raised $1,000 by conducting a coin drive at our school. The funds went towards the purchase of 50 sheep for the small village. The Ethiopian women utilized those sheep to produce milk, cheese, yogurt, and other products that were then sold for profit. The project was ultimately presented at a city service learning fair, and later recognized by the local Rotary Club. Our student leader also received a college scholarship for her exemplary role in the organization.

Our young women’s experiences with community service locally and globally were important lessons in how to network and engage in learning environments beyond the four walls of a school building. More importantly, our students gained skills that allowed them to empathize, not just sympathize, with other citizens—and then move to action. In essence, they experienced what it means to be change agents. While the school library has traditionally been a place for fact finding, analysis, and technology presentations, I learned to expand my role as a school librarian. Now, rather than simply teaching academic skills, I know how exciting it is to include teaching those important skills our students need to help engage communities, collaborate with others, and solve problems beyond our school walls.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP
Education Massachusetts National Guard to Help With Busing Students to School
250 guard personnel will be available to serve as drivers of school transport vans, as districts nationwide struggle to hire enough drivers.
1 min read
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass. Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, activated the state's National Guard to help with busing students to school as districts across the country struggle to hire enough drivers.
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass.
Michael Dwyer/AP