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Q&A: The LEAGUE Michigan helps educators tie service learning into traditional education

Students work with The LEAGUE Michigan to cheer on their peers competing in Special Olympics events.

Young people join the fight against hunger by preparing meals for community members in need.

Something nearly all teachers, parents, post-secondary educators and hiring professionals agree on is that in order for students to earn future success, they must have access to real world application. The LEAGUE Michigan is helping teachers bring real world application into their classrooms in a way that also exposes students to opportunities to make a difference in their communities. When these two components meet, the next generation of thriving community members is ignited. InspirED Michigan chatted with The LEAGUE’s executive director, Nellie Tsai, to provide insight on how the organization is bringing service learning to Michigan’s classrooms.
What is The LEAGUE Michigan and what type of events and curriculum can we expect to see from The LEAGUE throughout the holiday season?
Tsai: The LEAGUE Michigan is a K-12 public engagement program that functions as part of the Michigan Nonprofit Association. The LEAGUE works with teachers and educators in eight communities throughout the state of Michigan to fit service learning into education. Throughout the holiday season we have schools hosting soup drives with students designing the menu, serving the soup and everything in between, clothing drives and mitten drives, and an annual book drive to give students the chance to recycle books they’ve outgrown and encourage reading.
How does participation in service learning benefit students academically?
Tsai: Service learning gives students the opportunity to see real world application of what they’re learning. It’s also a great way to get students engaged and excited to come to school. I’ve had teachers tell me that students with consistent attendance problems make sure they are present on days with service learning projects. The idea that "hey, I can play a meaningful role in making a difference in my community" really enhances student performance.
The LEAGUE Michigan gets students involved with nonprofit volunteering and philanthropy education at a young age. How does this benefit youth as they grow into adulthood?
Tsai: When students perform a service learning project they learn essential workplace skills to complement their day-to-day academics-- think teamwork, leadership, communication and creative thinking. They learn to adhere to certain quality standards expected in service and come up with creative solutions to decide which type of project would best fit their community and then execute a plan. Service learning allows students to find a place for what they learn in school in their home and personal lives, which influences them as they move onto the next chapters in their lives. When they’ve been exposed to this level of service learning from such a young age, they are likely to stay involved in their post-secondary education and professional careers. Service learning in our schools is building the next generation of volunteers and philanthropists in our communities. I’ve had students write and say because of the service learning projects I was exposed to during K-12, I know how to approach a nonprofit, demonstrate my skills and get involved. We have former students now in grant writing or fundraising careers and holding leadership positions in volunteer organizations at their universities.
You’ve worked with many students and educators across several communities. Can you speak to the direct impact these individuals have on their respective communities?
Tsai: With a presence in eight communities throughout the state, I see an exceptionally large overall impact -- it’s really special to see how the impact on each individual community is truly unique. In Kalamazoo a physics teacher had her class work with a career services agency to build a wheelchair ramp for senior citizens. There was a statistics teacher in Sault Ste. Marie who had students look at substance abuse trends in the U.S. and then launch advocacy programs in their communities. These teachers are taking what could be rather boring lessons and bring them to life by giving students the opportunity to make their community a better place to live. Even some of our youngest elementary students have made a tremendous impact. I saw a second grade class complete an entire network assessment on the needs of their community by conducting interviews, reflecting and then using this reflection to beautify the community’s parks. They were able to utilize skills appropriate to their grade level to design their own service learning project.

To learn more about The LEAGUE Michigan, visit the webpage, Facebook or Twitter.
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