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First-Day Jitters and Service Learning in the Buckeye State

August 25, 2010

By Dennis Van Roekel, NEA President

Another day and more schools where NEA members doing exciting work.  Today was the first day of school in Columbus, Ohio and what a great day to be in the Buckeye State. In addition to the first day of school, folks in Ohio are celebrating Tuesday’s announcement that they are among the states selected for round two Race to the Top grants. Ohio Education Association (OEA) President Patricia Frost-Brooks and Columbus Education Association (CEA) President Rhonda Johnson met me bright and early at West High School where we spent some time talking to OEA members before they rushed off to meet and greet students for the new school year.

I arrived at South Mifflin STEM Academy K-6 just in time to see parents dropping off students for that exciting first day of school; there was lots of enthusiasm and anticipation.  South Mifflin Principal Andrew Smith welcomed me and took me on a tour of the school. 

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Deborah Delisle joined us at South Mifflin to announce a $550,000 service-learning grant from Learn & Serve America.  Learn & Serve America is part of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the U.S. government agency that also houses AmeriCorps and Vista.  Staff from NEA’s External Partnerships and Advocacy Department wrote the grant proposal. The grant will fund Bringing Learning to Life, a teacher-led project to transform public schools through service-learning. We will partner with CEA, the Ohio State University College of Education and Human Ecology, Columbus City Schools, and OEA to work with community groups to restore schools to their traditional role as community hubs.

Gov. Strickland spoke eloquently about the “power of service learning.”  He said service learning recognizes that learning doesn’t just happen in the school house, and it doesn’t just happen in the school day. The governor said service learning provides problem-solving, critical thinking, and hands-on learning opportunities.

Following the grant announcement, I left South Mifflin for Champion Middle School which is an NEA Priority School.  I met with Champion Middle School Principal Ed Baker, his staff, and some school parents to learn more about how they are using a $2.97 million School Improvement Grant at Champion.

I had lunch with OEA President Pat Frost-Brooks before heading to airport for a flight to Tampa, Florida and day four of our back- to-school tour.

From left: Gov. Ted Strickland, OEA President Patricia Frost-Brooks, and me.