Written by: Joe Hong, program director for San Diego After-School All-Stars & Aaron Dworkin, national program director for After-school All-Stars
After-School All-Stars (online at www.as-as.org) was founded by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and is a leading national nonprofit which provides free daily after-school programs to 80,000 low-income urban students at 450 schools in 13 cities across the United States. Seventy percent of the students served nationally are in middle school, 84 percent qualify for free and reduced lunch and 90% are students of color.
Service-learning is one of four national program priorities for After-School All-Stars (ASAS) along with Middle to High School Transition, Career Exploration, and Sports-Based Youth Development.
Our vision is to incorporate service-learning in every single enrichment activity that we do; from model cars, to hip-hop, to cooking. For example, one cooking class asked students to research hunger in their communities while they learned to make a meal to serve at a local food shelter. As an after-school program, ASAS is in a great position to show students they can easily connect service to their passions and skills – with activities they choose to do, are good at, and already love to do in their free time. We applaud those who work to connect service to core academic subjects. Overall we believe it is advantageous to help kids get in the habit of connecting service to whatever they love.
After-School All-Stars school sites typically have a student leadership group called Entourage, which takes responsibility for the planning and leading of service and service-learning projects at their school for major days of service; such as Cesar Chavez Day, MLK Day, and Global Youth Service Day. In addition, the Entourage group meets regularly and plans other service projects during the year.
After-School All-Stars is also making an effort to incorporate youth service as a responsibility of all of our sports teams and coaches. For example, we encouraged students on a soccer team to research and decide a cause they would want to dedicate their season to and then eventually create a way to support their cause through their season. We called it “Play for a Cause” and teams were encouraged to raise money from fans at their games, offer direct services to nonprofits instead of practicing one day, raise awareness of their cause by creating posters, and even dedicate a trophy to their charity. We asked these students, “If professional athletes and teams give back – why not middle school athletes too?”
Based on our experience working with Entourage middle school students in San Diego, please find a few key lessons Joe Hong has found in all his work with youth service and service-learning.
Successful service-learning with middle school students requires:
• TIME AND PLANNING
• HEART AND MEANING
We have found that success EQUALS:
• Passionate staff
• Start small, see the big picture
• Clear roles and expectations
• Flexibility in schedule
• Link between service and standards
• Give the students a voice; feeling of empowerment
Below are a few examples of successful youth service and service-learning projects currently under way with ASAS San Diego students.
The problem of childhood obesity in the U.S. has grown considerably in recent years. The participants of After-School All-Stars Greater San Diego find this epidemic relevant to the community and the children we serve. Like other impoverished towns all over this country, there isn't a lot of access to high quality fruits and vegetables. There are also a disproportionate number of fast food places, which do not serve healthy food, but rather offers food that is much cheaper. Students in our after-school programs are creating an awareness of the community needs and are collaborating with two local community gardens. The students are growing an abundant number of fruits and vegetables that are given to families in need, meanwhile we provide nutritional education. The gardens are giving students access to fresh foods, introducing them to nature, and helping them live a healthier lifestyle.
Compassion for Haiti
Students at Montgomery Middle School in San Diego wanted to lead their school in an effort to respond to one of the gravest humanitarian crises in the Western Hemisphere. The students wanted their voices to be heard and they wanted to create an awareness of what they are doing to help not just in their communities, but in other nations. Not only are they raising money and creating awareness, the students are learning about the history and people of Haiti as well. The projects started the first week of the devastation and will continue until the end of the school year. Our service-learning club (Entourage) is leading the charge and is getting their fellow classmates, teachers, parents and administrators involved. They have collected over $2,000 thus far.
Bridging the Generation Gap
Today we stand on the brink of a national epidemic unlike anything we have experienced before. As the largest number of Americans reaches retirement age, Alzheimer’s and other similar progressive and fatal diseases threaten life as we know it. Our after-school students are reaching out and helping our elders living in San Diego because we have over 90,000 families coping with these diseases every day. The students have made monthly commitments of companionship and friendship to isolated seniors who live in long-term care facilities. The students have been doing arts and crafts and engaging in other stimulating activities for the elders.
Restoring the Wildlife Habitat
Students have chosen to volunteer for the San Diego Audubon Society to help foster the protection of birds, wildlife, and their habitats. The society also offers local conservation and education programs. The students helped restore a special nesting site for endangered California Least Terns. They also worked at FAA Island, a small island just west of Fiesta Island that is used for air traffic control purposes and is usually closed to the public. Unfortunately, this site is full of vegetation and invasive plants and so cannot be used by the terns for nesting and rearing their young. The students worked to clear this vegetation and to prepare the site for the arrival of the terns in late April 2010.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) provides opportunities for refugees to thrive in America. Each year, thousands of refugees are invited by the U.S. government to seek safety and freedom. Forced to flee conflict or persecution, many have survived for years against incredible odds. These refugees step off the plane with next to nothing but their dignity, hope, and determination. In San Diego, the IRC helps them rebuild their lives. The New Roots Community Farm, a project of the IRC in San Diego, was started to provide our refugee clients with land to farm their own food as a way to improve their food security. Our students will volunteer alongside the refugees to learn about the history, the people, and the cultures of so many different countries including: Somalia, Burma, Vietnam, and Kenya.
The final key thought from ASAS is to remember that we are not training the leaders of tomorrow; we are working with the community leaders of today.
Joe Hong can be reached for questions at email@example.com.