More than community service: Service learning projects give students chance to understand issues, offer solutions

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At Roseville Area High School, there is a small room that looks like a mini Target

When you walk in, to the right you will see clothes — coats, hats, gloves. There are school supplies on the shelves in front of you. And on the left side, you will see dry foods and home necessities.

The major difference between this room and Target is that everything here is free. This is the high school’s food shelf, the result of a service learning project that finished in 2012.

When students run out of notebooks or pencils, they can go to the food shelf to stock up. They can also bring food home to help their families.

“My family doesn’t need to spend money (to) buy stuff — that’s helpful,” Roseville senior Pay Poe said. “Academically, because of the resources, it helps us (not) worry … You don’t have to go buy stuff that’s needed for school, because it’s already there.”

Students from Roseville Area High School in the school’s food shelf, the result of a service learning project by students several years ago. (Photo by Shimin Zhang, ThreeSixty Journalism)

In 2008, students began designing service learning projects to benefit people in and around Roseville Area High School. After a couple years, an idea formed that would have a lasting impact on students — a food shelf.

The idea came after the Roseville Student Council visited the food shelf at the Anoka-Hennepin school district. The student council felt Roseville needed something similar, according to teacher Concetta Smith, who helped with the project.

Students began to plan what is now known simply as the “Food Shelf.” About 40 students were involved in the project.

Through the college readiness program Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), students found the opportunity to fund the program.

“I think the question was, ‘If you have $1,000, how would you change your school?’” Smith said. “And so, that was what one of our students decided to do with that money.”

Starting in 2011, students worked an entire year to bring the project together, between preparing the physical space and securing funding. The United Way Ashoka

Youth Venture gave $1000 grant for the food shelf in May 23, 2012.The physical work took place from June 2012 to September 2012 — stocking the shelves, cleaning the space and painting the walls.

After the students finished the physical work, it was time to solicit donations.Slowly but surely, the items for the food shelf started rolling in. A salon donated backpacks. A woman donated toiletries. Love INC, the National Guard, Keystone Community Services and other organizations also helped to fill the food shelf, according to ?

“It was a really great way for us to connect to the community,” Smith said. “They know what they need to do, and they want to help.”

In September 2012, the shelf opened.

In the winter, students without enough money to purchase winter gear could get coats, hats and socks from the food shelf. It also benefits students facing difficulties caused by a lack of transportation, senior Ba Po said. In her family, her dad and older sister are the only people who drive.

“Winter time is really tough,” Po said. “Sometimes my dad will be sick and sometimes my older sister goes to work, and then my mom and the rest of us don’t know how to drive. It’s hard to go buy food and sometimes we don’t have the money.”

The food shelf is not the only service learning project that Roseville students have completed. For instance, others students created an outdoor classroom space from an existing high school courtyard to help students get outside. Some students are collecting books and donating them to organizations, while others are writing encouraging letters to the elderly or injured in hospitals.

If students are interested in helping their own communities, they should start with a specific problem, according to Roseville AVID teacher Kerri Werner. A small idea can make a big difference.

“An important part of AVID has always been doing community service,” she said. But service learning projects can be much more meaningful because students find issues in the community on their own, have responsibility over them, and make connections, she said.

The projects can also help students be more aware of the issues impacting their communities, Werner said.

“[They develop] awareness of what’s going on in the community, whether that is a school community or community in Roseville, or even beyond,” Werner said. “They gain an awareness of all the issues that they are exposed to outside of their teenage life. It’s amazing to watch.”

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