Sustainability

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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.

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Questions? E-mail the author at sandymckane [at] gmail [dot] com.
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