There are many in need in our neighborhoods, across the country, and around the world. When we help others, we also help ourselves by creating a better and safer world for all of us. Thus, “for the people” becomes an all-inclusive worldwide concept.
The outcomes of a K–12 service learning model spread nationwide with a sister-city component would truly be for the people, for us all. When we consider the magnitude of solutions a K–12 service learning model could bring to our world—the way in which outcomes would circle back to our families, to our children, to the environment, to future generations—it becomes an all-encompassing idea. The need to “do it right” becomes essential, and how to properly care for an idea so rich with potential becomes a critical consideration. What kind of structure is needed? Who should be in charge? Whom could we trust? How do we protect and sustain it generation to generation?
A K–12 national service learning curriculum would create an overarching sustainable structure with our youth watching over our world; a structure within our schools—easily identifiable locations—constantly refreshed with new life and energy to solve new challenges and maintain ongoing projects.
Placing the management of a community checklist of projects in our schools ensures sustainability. When an organization or individual leaves a project, another can pick it up where a vacancy shows on the checklist of projects. As community members engage in projects on a community checklist, a reserve of people accrues who can provide additional information and support as responsibility for projects shifts.
Without a larger sustaining framework, service projects eventually fall into the vacuum of lost projects—as teachers retire, as new principals take over, as new agendas arise, as interests shift. Community-based organizations know from experience that support can dry up at any time. They live, like their clients, on the edge. Year after year they muster the energy to “raise community awareness,” knowing that they will need to repeat these efforts to reawaken community members. Their work and the daily progression of needs they address continue, while we, for the most part, forget as we focus on personal responsibilities.
In our community, in spite of the wonderful outcomes created by Food2Share, the project gradually dwindled over several years. As my inspiration grew for the larger idea of a K–12 service learning model, I came to find, as have many others, that projects currently don’t survive without a single individual to drive individual projects. Although projects were created at different grade levels, without an overarching structure of support, they gradually disappeared. We have the ability, the resources, and the will to contribute, to volunteer, and to effect change, but our efforts fluctuate without a structure to inform and sustain our giving.
Sustainability has become a critical assessment factor for many initiatives. The qualities that create sustained outcomes are many, and although familiar, their combination is daunting and complex: long-term planning and vision, ownership, commitment, responsibility, dependability, motivation, persistence, flexibility, cooperation, trust, patience, maintenance, consistency, routines, ongoing education and assessment, contribution, and often sacrifice. When we assess sustainability from the vantage point of these qualities, it becomes easier to understand why it is difficult to achieve.
Sustaining an idea or endeavor is demanding work. Although we are capable of expressing the above qualities, overall we do not do so with consistency. Yet, regardless of how far we stray from the above qualities, we continue to strive toward the high demand of sustainability, an ideal that exceeds our essential human condition. Project originators are a group among us who demonstrate the blend of necessary qualities to achieve sustained outcomes.
Service project originators are eager to share their work. Instead of personal gain, they seek solutions for environmental and human needs. They find satisfaction in progressive work toward goals beyond the self. They teach us how to come together and build community, serving as role models in many ways. When I worked with a project originator to expand a service learning project he had created into a district-wide model, this was his response:
Though I may be considered the district’s leader, this year I feel like one member of a team. That’s a new experience—and a nice one. I am willing to meet with or present to anyone or any group. If there is a niche I can fill, let me know. This program is a good one. I think the combined momentum could keep it going for a long time. It’s nice to be on a team. Thanks for making it happen.
This response is typical for project originators. There is no blockage to sharing and creating—they seek expansion of the good outcomes they have created. They take responsibility, have excellent follow-through, don’t give up, continue to care for those with whom they have created relationships, and seek to include others in common endeavors. They welcome diversity of contributions, care for others, and play well with others in highly constructive ways.
So often we speak of learning from history—learning from our mistakes. How invigorating would it be to focus on learning from current solution-builders, to shift our focus toward positive, progressive expectations? Project originators see problems, but more important, they see solutions. They refer to problems, but they talk about solutions and seek others to join them in creating them. They need others to work with them and follow their lead. They seek to educate and bring more of us into their problem-solving arena. They show us the feasibility of significant and inspiring change. They show us the way forward. A K–12 service learning curriculum would honor their work, bringing much needed support as they continue to carve the way forward with our children as partners.
Schools at the Center of Our Communities
Schools are a large, central, and stable entity in all communities and provide a unifying, preexisting structure with mission values that embrace civic engagement. They are also the most powerful, central location for managing checklists of projects through which our civic activities can circulate. Schools naturally provide the vehicle for widespread communication within and between communities nationwide as well as globally—everyone easily gets on the same page. Our children and their educators can learn the best current practices along with the identification of new needs and solutions through school assemblies; this will allow them to continue expanding the model and unite us nationwide as Americans.
Placing our children at the center of managing community needs and solutions honors their education and capacity for contribution. Through real-life engagements and active participation with us, our children find relevance in their education and purposeful connections in their communities. Students see how their work fits into a larger national or global perspective and come to understand needs, but more important, to generate solutions. They experience the value of organization, contribution, and ongoing assessment of community needs as they join with their peers nationwide to share in solutions and outcomes.
Students also find value in their presence in the community when organizations come to them with needs and when community members come to them for information or with donations or to offer to volunteer.
Teachers experience increased student motivation and engagement in the classroom and find multiple leadership and learning experiences provided by the initiative. They get inspiration from the impact of their work with students in the community, and they become able to share in common work and outcomes with teachers nationwide, broadening their contributions to society.
Parents find channels of community service engagement with their children throughout the K–12 experience. They become educated about solutions for community needs through their children, who eventually become adults educated in this way, bringing further support to the next generation’s contributions.
Community members have a central location for a well-organized overview of community needs and how they can be met. The impact of their contributions deepens as it passes through the awareness—the hands, hearts, and minds—of our youth. Community members find tangible evidence of the ability of the next generation to make a difference in the world, and this can create intergenerational bonds, with the next generation at the helm.
When businesses have access to a community checklist of projects, they find opportunities to give back to the community. What better way for businesses to market themselves than through giving back, coming directly to schools to see how they can contribute instead of waiting for solicitations for help. Interaction with businesses in this context expands real-world interactions for students and offers best practices to the next generation.
Community-based organizations benefit from a central informational location that creates ongoing awareness of needs. A central location provides them with a way to communicate needs, coordinate pickup of supplies or funds, share volunteer needs, and educate the community about the work of their organizations. Community-based organizations would also be able to find solutions from other parts of the United States and be uplifted by the flow of ongoing, dependable support.
With schools at the center of our communities, community members encounter verifiable evidence that our children are learning and becoming capable, contributing citizens. Youth are stimulated to learn by doing real-world work. Adults are inspired to consider the overall health of their communities and how they can contribute as they become directly involved with the learning of youth in their communities.
Service learning embraces a high level of flexibility and adapts to changes. Service projects reflect the conditions of our lives, our communities, and our world. Today’s challenges may not be those of tomorrow, and that which needs research today may need maintenance tomorrow.
Our children encounter real-world change with service learning. Solutions may come from unexpected sources that require revamping original plans. Our children learn cooperatively, facing and managing challenge, failure, success, and growth together. The entire process teaches them much about life, problem solving, and how to travel rough or unknown paths. The learning that takes place in this safe, inclusive environment is transferable knowledge that supports success in more-traditional, individually assessed academic settings.
The structural underpinnings of this curriculum include the four-part design of service learning, signature grade-level service learning projects, and a national checklist of projects organized by topics as a resource for locally defined community checklists. Evaluation comes from statistical data generated by community-based organizations that offers tangible evidence of our efforts.
Curriculum for other core subjects (math, history, science, language arts) is determined by each state, reflecting the high value we place on freedom and autonomy. The service learning curriculum, by contrast, is nationally coordinated, reflecting the voice of the people to self-govern from a different perspective. A flexible service learning curriculum provides another avenue of expression for our core American value of freedom of voice and freedom to self-determine our path and how to get there.
A service learning curriculum invites the participation of all who discover better ways of meeting local, national, and global needs, “the people”—our youth, our teachers, and our community members—who bring problems to light and solutions to a collective table. Such a combined effort gathers our youth together with us on a journey worth pursuing, a journey that inspires us to continue.
Simple Entry Models
A national model for service learning must be based on easily replicated projects with clear and valuable outcomes. Simple, core projects at specific grade levels create a foundation on which more-complex projects can develop.
The early-grade service learning projects for the K–12 model shared in previous chapters were created with teachers who were not initially familiar with service learning as an educational structure. However, with some explanation of service learning as a way to tie service to curriculum, they readily engaged. The practical, educational relevance of the service learning projects became clear to students, teachers, parents, community members, and elected officials as community-based organizations substantiated outcomes that confirmed the significance of contributions.
Simple models with clear explanations and support materials help teachers and students move forward into projects with greater ease and communication. Sample model formats are at www.k12serviceinitiative.com.
A dear friend, whose professional work involved event planning, once remarked that recurring events were “cookbook”—they had become as easy as a recipe. Once these grade-level projects are up and running, less energy is required to maintain them because habit takes over. As years of project work progress, former students and teachers pave leadership roles, which makes it easier to add, develop, and strengthen contributions and leadership roles in specific topic areas—one step at a time—in our own schools and communities, at our own rate, with the support of others nationwide doing the same.
Simple models that invite engagement are essential for a K–12 national model; they are essential for the experiential learning and outcomes our children are so eager to find in their schools, in their relationships with teachers and communities, and in the real world.
National and Community Checklists
A national checklist populated with many projects serves as a resource for work in our communities. As we prioritize and select projects of value, an individualized community checklist forms, which shows us who is managing a topic or project, what is needed, and how we are progressing.
If students or community members feel that a particular project from the national checklist is a priority, it can go onto the community checklist. If a community-based organization identifies a particular project of value, it can also go on the community checklist to bring it to the attention of community members. The community checklist coordinates local community information, reduces duplication of effort, and displays needs that may not be common knowledge among all community members. The community checklist shows where the gaps are in meeting local community needs and how community members can contribute.
The extraction of projects for our youth—beginning with kindergartners—is an organizational prioritization to ensure an educational foundation for our citizenry. Beyond signature projects identified with early-grade curriculum and leadership roles, other projects become available to the community, including those in middle school and high school.
Incorporating New Information and Projects
With a K–12 service learning model in place, all community members come to know that our youth are actively engaged in keeping all local community service work intact and that our youth are connected nationwide and reaching out globally. The most expedient way to disseminate new information to the community is through this educational channel.
One current example of how students and schools can alert community members about new information is in the recycling of plastic bottle caps. For years, people were told they could not be recycled and became accustomed to simply throwing them out, but the recycling industry can now incorporate these caps into the recycling stream. The shift to get everyone onboard to recycle these bottle caps requires communication and education. Students can inform community members that, as small as these bottle caps are, over a billion pounds of them are produced every year, and the recovery of this material is of value in recycled products.
In this particular example, recycling equipment and capabilities need to be checked at the local level. Sixth graders in the leadership role for recycling could take the next steps. A phone call or e-mail to a waste management facility would garner community-specific information. Information in hand, they could create a presentation for a school assembly, coordinating with others in their school district and nationwide as they watch for shifts in statistical data due to these new processes.
With six years of cumulative leadership experience and guidance from teachers, new information and processes provide a natural, progressive opportunity for sixth graders to exercise communication skills and confirm their roles in addressing real-world issues. Classes with leadership roles stay in touch with their community partner organizations, update their checklist topics with new information, and contact news media to disseminate information to the larger community.
One Central Office
One of the beautiful aspects of service work is that there is rarely a sense of competition. An atmosphere of cooperation and the desire to seek the best outcomes and share information is the norm. When these qualities are modeled from the top down as well as from the bottom up, it’s possible to achieve an outcome compatible with the content, a homogenous whole.
The best information comes from the trenches. Perspective from those working hands-on must be the controlling element for all aspects of the design and structure of the initiative. We need grassroots directive and the help of the many who, set to work, will generate the most feedback in the shortest time. Despite variations, commonalities that guide and define projects will emerge.
We need support from the top, as well—at the national level—to facilitate this initiative. A national support point provides a way to organize ourselves—a way for all of us to get on the same page and start together on similar projects. Support at the top gives us a single location for needed resources, one funnel point for all suggestions on existing projects, and submission of new projects. In this initiative, the top could provide structure and funding incentives.
One central office could create and maintain a website with national and global project models. Staff there could work with project originators on replication models and manage input from project replicators. The office would communicate with other developed nations participating in the K–12 service learning initiative and network with offices that coordinate sister-city relationships.
One central office would provide a cohesive structure for the flow of information to and from ourselves as “the people” joined in a common endeavor. The office would facilitate the work “of the people” by mirroring the qualities of the work itself: sharing information and seeking best outcomes in an atmosphere of cooperation.
Many service learning projects do not require external funding. Community members often willingly donate supplies, and beginning grade school projects involve minimal if any expense. Existing systems of support with matching mission values, such as AmeriCorps and SeniorCorps, would be a natural fit with a K–12 service learning curriculum.
While voluntary community participation and support for the initiative has its merits, federal funding is appropriate, as service learning outcomes directly address many relevant issues brought to the federal level for support and solution. Participation in K-6 projects, substantiated by documented outcomes from partnering community-based organizations, could be rewarded with federal funding for more-involved, higher-level service learning projects on the national checklist.
As with any grassroots initiative, people and inspiration are the fuel. We continue to learn from projects in developing areas of the world that ownership among community members is critical. Readily accessible projects with specific tasks allow community members to identify a contribution they can make that fits with their lives, budgets, or areas of expertise.
As the initiative starts, support will come from our families, schools, service organizations, churches, and businesses. We have the manpower among ourselves, and we have the supply; we simply need to organize and distribute.
Some communities can afford materials for an elementary grade project while others may not. Some projects will take off quickly and easily, while others will grow slowly. Some projects may not meet local needs, while others may generate excess. If a project is up and running well in our community, the decision can be made to reach out and give our excess to a location where others are struggling to meet a severe need.
As our children come together nationally to share statistics, they will see distribution of wealth; their altruistic capabilities, still well supported in early grades, will naturally suggest outreach when they have excess; they will want to see the balances readjust. They will clearly see—and the model will help them—that need can be met with excess and that we can reach out not only in our own communities or to a global sister city but to national areas of need, strengthening the fabric of peer relationships nationwide.
Companies willing to donate supplies or funds are additional sources of funding. With all our children working together and submitting their outcomes to a national database, pockets of greatest need will become clearer to all, allowing companies to donate to these areas of greatest need more quickly and efficiently.
The Logic of Starting Young
Long-lasting solutions seem to elude adults, which ultimately disappoints our children. Ironically, those who can help are the youngest, those who have the purest vision. Children adjust the adult lens toward purity of vision for the world.
Without the inclusion of our children, the problem solving we attempt as adults will be flawed. If we are to change direction toward infectious solution-making, we will need humility to see through their lens, believe in the simplicity of their logic, and endorse the significance of their presence. If we work with our youth, listen to them for guidance, and contribute the organizational skills we possess as adults, we can create a legacy of which we can be proud.
Children are capable of more than we allow. They are eager for inclusion in real-life activities, and they constitute a large segment of our population. Because we know that habits are formed early in life, we begin reading to children when they are very young. We can approach the area of service and community involvement in the same way to unlock our children’s potential to grow in understanding of problems and solutions and in developing interest in lifelong community service.
Thirteen years of K–12 education is long—especially from the perspective of youth. Test scores and grades are superficial status checks on the growth and well-being of our youth. The framework of their education, defined by previous generations and without the inclusion of their perspective or voice, remains firmly fixed as they grow in awareness of their constantly changing world in which they have as yet no inclusion.
During the last phase of their school experience, a significant number of young Americans drop out. Concern for this phenomenon has caused educators across the country to devise programs to keep these young adults engaged in their final years of schooling, but we are beginning too late in the process to address this issue. Something more fundamental is missing.
A K–12 national service learning model brings contrast and balance to the existing educational framework. If we begin at the beginning, in kindergarten, adding a critical missing ingredient during this highly formative period of growth, the result is altered; as in the presence of a catalyst, outcomes shift.
Perhaps high school dropout issues would fade away under the positive influence of real-life engagements further supported by community programs that mentor our youth. Perhaps students would look forward to the passage of leadership roles in their schools and in their communities. Perhaps they would feel better about school and the opportunity to make a difference. Perhaps their K–12 service journals would become a record of living history—of their personal contributions and value in the world, a meaningful record of their schooling they would keep and even pass on to the next generation. Perhaps they would take pride in accomplishments that surpass the efforts of their elders. Perhaps world tensions would begin to melt as youth follow the lead of project originators to support their peers in developing areas of the world. Perhaps habits of disregard for the environment would shift to truly sustainable processes.
When a service learning project originator spoke to a district-wide gathering of third graders in 2006, he referred to them as the class of 2016. Bringing this vantage point to the awareness of our youth strengthens purpose and identity. It also reminds us, as adults, of who they are, and who they will be.
Americans have been innovative pioneers from the beginning. Instead of continuing to apply the same standard measures of accomplishment that don’t capture the inspired interest of our youth, if we were to open the scope of education to involve them in real-life work with us, we might discover powerful gifts they have to bring to our world that exceed our ability to anticipate the outcomes.
A Common Heritage of Civic Engagement
Our nation, created by its citizens, was founded on freedom and equality. Incorporating an experiential civic education curriculum for our youth that fosters the concept “of the people, by the people, and for the people” exemplifies our foundational concepts. Think “of the average person,” “of the specialized expert,” “of a child” and a convergence of these as an average person gets a suggestion from an expert and involves children in the process. As we work together, we will create solutions of value in the community, nationally, and worldwide. With the aid of our technology, we can come together with the support of our common humanity focused through the lens of our children. A national point of dissemination would facilitate communication and renew inspiration for a government that works for and with the people, encouraging them to suggest, create, and refine solutions without control measures that might inhibit best outcomes.
As we come together as Americans, we will learn from and be inspired by one another. Those who take the lead will show us the path and reach out with support to bring us onboard. As our children see other children, as teachers see other teachers, as parents see other parents, as principals and superintendents see other administrators accomplishing project objectives, a convergence and flow of collective energy will carry us forward.
We have never come together to see what would happen if we positively embraced one another in sustained community service. Communication and coordination technology is poised to initiate this potential. To envision that this sustained developmental work—drawing on the best ideas in a variety of realms with our children at the helm—could bring widespread peace and productivity is not a quantum leap but an easily attained outcome based on resources at hand.
As we broaden our perspective, we can see the integration of national and global elements that affect our families and local communities. A national model would strengthen our national identity—not only as we perceive ourselves, but also as others around the world perceive us by our actions and commitment. Once up and running, the model easily coordinates with other developed nations, working with them to adopt sister cities in developing areas of the world and coordinating work on environmental issues—sharing the positive results of these efforts worldwide. We would build extensive relations at home and abroad from a sustained base of outreach.
Beginning at the local level is something we can see and understand. Local organizations make us aware of local problems, and a national checklist of projects can provide solutions. Reaching out to others nationally as we meet local needs and have excess would strengthen our national unity. Similar organizations in similar communities are often problem solving similar difficulties. Sharing processes and outcomes promotes efficiency and allows us to see where there are excesses and deficiencies and help one another on a national level.
Helping those in developing areas brings us together in solving issues of environmental concern and peaceable coexistence. As every community works with a sister city, shared problem solving increases significantly. Bringing solutions, often generated by indigenous people, to areas of the world in need can positively impact our world standing. Relationships developed between children worldwide will influence their adult-world relations in the future.
Fast-forward to consider the time when the cycle is repeating for the children of the first round of parents who themselves engaged in K–12 service learning; they will bring a wealth of experience to their children’s service learning education, and there will be parents worldwide who were on the receiving end of the service outreach in sister-city relationships. Imagine a world that continually receives intelligent giving and operates from a base of cooperative relationships.
Building a common core of service learning projects managed by our youth reaches down to the roots of our citizenry to create comprehensive, sustained outreach to those in need, a heritage of civic engagement. We can come together with unity of purpose as people with common challenges united in ongoing problem solving. With a base model of service learning projects in all school systems, children and families have a point of commonality with others across the United States, and our heritage of civic engagement becomes a topic of conversation that celebrates our accomplishments and our ability to build meaningful relationships locally, nationally, and globally through the inclusion of our youth.
The exceptional must become common; we need to move beyond acknowledgment of outstanding projects and shift to widespread replication of those projects so they become commonplace everywhere. With common models, we can add, refine, and share in the larger celebration of what we are accomplishing in our community, our state, and across the nation.
We could begin with the next class of kindergartners or start with a variety of elementary grade projects. A few school-wide projects such as Food2Share or a program that aims at zero waste provide opportunity for all students to get onboard in their schools and nationwide. Our kids will get this. They will see the beginnings of something they can believe in, something they can invest in and be proud of, something that allows them to contribute and find success beyond the framework of test scores and grades.
As we become more involved in doing, we have less time to argue because interest in ideas that work takes over and we find commonality in that. The evidence of accomplishment strengthens unity. As we create this new initiative and move beyond preexisting definitions, questions or potential obstacles will arise. Beyond the projects, we need to prepare to meet these questions and obstacles to keep our forward momentum.
We need to ask whether any idea strengthens or weakens our ability to move forward: Does it help us achieve better outcomes, or does it hold us back with unnecessary processes and paperwork? Does the idea help us to take action or complicate our ability to do so? We may find that some teachers or schools are initially resistant to participate, but with our highly developed communication systems, students everywhere can reach out and work together to problem solve start-up challenges.
The idea that any of our children should be deprived of the opportunity to give and better their communities will become unconscionable among us. As we truly come together, bringing the best of our giving, our intelligence, our communication systems, and our resources, we will generate a momentum that will carry us forward with strength, gathering more and more of us into the work of creating a better world.
Is it possible for us to agree? Of course. As Americans, we have the entrepreneurial vision to carve a new path. I have yet to encounter a teacher, principal, superintendent, parent, community member, public servant, or staff member of a community-based organization who finds fault with the logic of this initiative. When disasters occur, we mobilize, but we are capable of mobilizing without such prompts. We do this in businesses and in our families—we plan and create solutions, adjusting as we go, incorporating professional advice and considerations.
However our beginnings take off, we will create more than we already have. As we all begin, more models and ways to accomplish objectives will surface and circulate. The actions of project originators and project replicators will energize us. Even the smallest initial outcomes will inspire us. Where needs exist without solutions, American ingenuity will surface. We can do this.
The Quest to Realize the K–12 Service Initiative
As Charlotte’s Circle grew and the outcomes became evident, we could see the long-term potential for its replication. I asked our New York service learning coordinator several questions:
- Why do we hear of outstanding projects in other states yet not replicate them in our own?
- Why do these projects remain where they started?
- Why do we read about and comment on these projects but just go about business as usual?
- Why don’t we replicate outstanding service projects that are of value in any community on a national level?
Five years ago, there was no answer to these questions, and they remain unanswered. Many organizations across the country identify wonderful problem-solving projects, but they are only narrowly replicated. Service learning projects in our schools take place randomly with sporadic engagement from year to year based on the interest of individual teachers. Autonomy reigns from state to state and district to district. Organizing them at the national level does not fit current systems.
A K–12 service learning initiative is a large-scale undertaking. Most national service-related organizations are set up to address part of a larger whole and are therefore not able to do much more than confirm the logic or the timeliness of the idea; they are not able to take action that would move a national K–12 concept forward. The magnitude of change is simply beyond their scope, with no common reference point for comparison. Although the initiative is large in scale, embracing national and international dissemination, it is so common-sense oriented that it is readily understood by people from any walk of life. It addresses the inclusion of our children and solving basic life problems that are familiar territory. It is a simple yet comprehensive organizational strategy.
This K–12 initiative—clearly defined and organized, with well-designed structural support and incentives going beyond the purely altruistic—has the capacity to stimulate our latent energy. If we were all informed, if we all got the blueprint, if we all connected through the Internet—not just sharing ideas, but plans, projects, a checklist, a game plan, and outcomes among ourselves—inspiration would run high. Simpler, entry-level projects that don’t require federal funding would commence the initiative with ease. As schools and community members sustain these primary foundational projects—with outcomes substantiated by local nonprofits—school districts would then qualify for federal support to engage in next-level projects that may require funding.
At this point in the process, everyone in the community can take pride in their accomplishments and the leadership roles our students are taking to bring this about as they bring exemplary projects to their home communities.
Because the major obstacle is not funding, the idea for the initiative falls into a nonexistent category. It does not need a grant, and it doesn’t require a nonprofit to be established to get the initiative off the ground. It needs to be executed from a place or position of power to reach us all. For the K–12 service learning initiative to take off, structural support is required from the very top.
There is essentially one place for the initiative to begin: the president. The office of the president is familiar with the magnitude of our converging issues and needs. This office embraces the management and ongoing assessment of large-scale undertakings and the overlaps that can exist between initiatives. The logic and timeliness the model would bring to the overall mass of problem solving would be seen from the perspective of this office, and it could identify next steps and connections to move the initiative toward full-scale realization. This office is simply the most appropriate in relation to the idea and its execution.
While I understand the perhaps naivety of such a suggestion, as this office is extremely inundated and insulated, I nonetheless feel this to be not only the best and most efficient route but also the only route for this to occur and draw us together nationally and globally. My meetings and conversations with a variety of offices I thought could offer support have brought me to this realization, which has in turn motivated me to paint this picture of the concept and to seek the support of others to bring it to fruition.
We have the technological tools to draw our youth together in this endeavor worldwide; all we need is the organizational structure to connect us all, to share outcomes, and to create a collective wave of change in our communities and in their sister cities.
I left my profession in music to pursue the development of the K–12 service learning model and its national dissemination. I have reached out to a plethora of logical contacts over the past five years, including senators, members of congress, and congressional committees. I’ve met with staff in the Department of Education, the Corporation for National and Community Service, Learn and Serve, and the Department of Defense. Their consensus is that the initiative is “where we need to be” and “ahead of the curve.” I even handed a copy of the outline to the secretary of education but have not yet connected with the right person or office who can bring this to the attention of those with the power to execute this initiative. The difficulty, at present, lies in the singular nature of the objectives that most agencies hold, as they do not have the power to create an overarching design that would create a focused structure.
If this could be brought to the attention of the president, we would get there. The president would see the multiple overlaps of solutions this would bring at home and abroad and could launch the initiative. How inspiring would it be for our kids, our nonprofits, our community members, and all Americans to see the president supporting their contributions to society and recognizing their value? They would see that power is not held by a few and that we are all getting on the same page.
The impact of our children’s questions and suggestions as they bring outstanding project models to the awareness of their home communities for replication would be beyond our current frame of reference. As Americans, we generate solutions; we look for next steps; we are interested in progression; we are inventive. Let’s engage our children in solving problems that matter and get excited with them and for their involvement in leading us into a new era.
Our children do not represent just hope for the future. Working with us now, they can embrace solutions in the present and confirm our common humanity and the “reach out now” capacity we readily access as Americans when crises occur. Our world standing allows us to inspire others worldwide. We are known for taking action. We see and acknowledge better ways to do things and get excited by outstanding project models with needful solutions. We give of our time, our thought, and other personal resources. We are willing to do what it takes to work for the environment and to help others. The list of our contributions is enormous and continues to grow.
A national K–12 service initiative makes sense to the average citizen, is immediately actionable, embraces existing systems of support, has short- and long-term outcomes, and is sustainable for the long haul worldwide. It identifies outstanding projects, honors project originators, and incorporates ongoing input from teachers, students, and community organizations. It gives people something practical to do in their communities that unities them with others nationally and globally, reviving the American spirit and awakening the true sense of community with our children at the helm. This K–12 initiative will surpass anything we have created thus far, providing a legacy for our children globally, and creating significantly different outcomes than those we presently experience. The model builds an infrastructure of civic engagement at home as well as abroad, rooting the positive outcomes of widespread service activity as the norm. The adults of today are not prepared to address the challenges we face, but our children can become prepared.
With shared values, common areas of problem solving, and uniquely American ingenuity, we can rediscover the heartbeat of our nation and come together to embrace those in need, and, for the first time, include the youngest Americans.