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Published: April 24, 2019 Author: Tony Meale

The Patton College of Education hosted Service Learning Day on April 18, as teacher candidates worked with 160 Athens High School (AHS) students and a dozen community partners to promote civic engagement throughout Southeast Ohio.

“This initiative aims to engage both university and high school students and contribute to the community in meaningful ways through collective action with fellow members of the community,” said Dr. Michael Kopish, Teacher Education assistant professor. “Through engagement, we strengthen the networks within our community and work together to address issues, advance the mission of community partners, and honor the unique gifts, knowledge, and expertise we all bring to the collaborative efforts.”

OHIO teacher candidates designed service-learning projects that would help community partners and the region. They worked on site for each project, leading small groups of AHS students ranging in size from eight to 25.

This marked the College’s fourth Service Learning Day. Since 2015, 20 community partners, 73 OHIO students, and more than 700 high school students have participated.

“It’s especially important for us as college students to give back to the community that we live in,” said Luke Carson, a junior Adolescent to Young Adult Integrated Social Studies Major. “Being education majors and teachers, it’s important for us to be able to work with Athens High School. Those students live in this community year-round, and I think it’s important that we all give back, that we all work together and help out.”

Carson worked with New-To-You Thrift Shoppe, as students helped clean and organize new and incoming donations. The Athens County Foster Parent Association founded the shop in 1976, with all proceeds helping foster children in care.

“I chose this project because I’m into thrifting and it helps out people in poverty” said Morgan Lutz, AHS junior. “It’s important to help the community we live in.”

OHIO juniors Erin Bechler and Hunter Bowsher, meanwhile, worked with Arts West, which is part of the City of Athens’ Arts, Parks, and Recreation Department. Its mission is to make facilities, resources, and opportunities available to art organizations, individual artists, and community residents.

Students worked for hours outside of the Arts West building washing the mural wall, raking leaves, mulching flowerbeds, and cleaning the surrounding yard.

“It’s important that students at Athens High School get to see the value of taking care of their community and giving back to it,” said Bechler, an Adolescent to Young Adult Integrated Language Arts major. “They get to realize the value behind their own service, rather than giving money or goods. Service can be just as valuable, if not more.”

It was also valuable for students to experience their community in new ways. Only one of 10 AHS students had visited Arts West prior to Service Learning Day.

“I like art, and this was one of the projects that stood out to me,” said Alexis Lyons, AHS junior. “My favorite part was just interacting with people I usually wouldn’t interact with.”

Bowsher, an Adolescent to Young Adult Integrated Social Studies major, believes that experiences like this are important and eye-opening for high school students. If they give back in their youth, they are more likely to give back as adults. Teacher candidates benefit as well.

“As college students, we’re basically on campus, and not a lot of us get to see other parts of Athens,” he said. “So it’s an eye-opening experience for us too, because we don’t see this part of Athens County. We only see the college aspect. We don’t see the community, the little mom-and-pop shops, the different art museums––the things that make Athens, Athens.”

Elsewhere, teacher candidates Jacob Stewart and Griffin Hites worked at Athens City Building, as AHS students explored connections between and among social media, policy, and local government. They created Athens-themed hashtags (including #myhomeathensoh and #4570fun), took pictures, and shared them on Instagram, tagging the City of Athens’ page in each post.

City of Athens Deputy Service Safety Director Ron Lucas wanted students’ perspectives on how to make social media more fun and engaging. He believes collaboration between and among OHIO, AHS, and the community is important. 

“We’re all one in the same,” he said. “Being that the city is largely from a geographic standpoint University property––about 60 percent of it––and all of our youth attend the Athens City Schools, I think it’s really important to engage all three together. We do have the resources available to do some really interesting educational opportunities for everyone––not just Ohio University students, not just high school students or elementary school students, but for the people that live here year-round, who have been here for 25 to 30 years. I think it’s really important to understand the resources that are available through Ohio University.” 

Other Service Learning Day community partners included Live Healthy Appalachia, Athens County Board of Developmental Disabilities, Southeast Ohio Food Bank, Wayne National Forest, Rural Action, Global Citizenship Eduction, Southeast Ohio Youth Mentoring, and The Plains Garden Club. Other AHS students participated in mental-health workshops at McCracken Hall that offered strategies for working with others, coping strategies, and tips on community and personal wellness.

“Our partnerships with community organizations are based on values of sharing and reciprocity, building collaborative relationships, and sustaining partnerships,” said Kopish. “They allow for resource sharing between Ohio University and community organizations and foster the development of new forms of knowledge and expertise.”

While all participants learned more about their community, teacher candidates also learned more about their profession. They collaborated with fellow teacher candidates and gained experience leading and instructing high school students. 

“It’s been really exciting to work with kids who are in the age range that we want to work with,” said Bechler. “Working close up with them and teaching them about community policy and working with each other, it’s a really positive experience. I think any preparation of any kind that involves working with students in the area is really, really great.”

Students learning at City Hall

Photo courtesy of: Mike KopishCity of Athens Deputy Service Safety Director Ron Lucas (in red) discusses social media strategies and perspectives with Athens High School Students in the Athens City Building. Athens Mayor Steve Patterson (right middle) joined in.

Students working at New-To-You

Photographer: Lindsay BerndtA little rain didn't stop Athens High School Students from lining up outside of New-To-You Thrift Shoppe to help employees unload a donation.