The Quest to Realize the K–12 Service Initiative

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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.

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