Big Picture students serve lunch for the homeless community at Christ Church in Dorchester, MA, as part of their Service Learning Term.

Service Learning Term: Key Component to Big Picture Education

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Thursday May 30, 2013

Dayle Sargeant, a senior in Big Picture South Burlington, knew immediately what was most meaningful to her about her Service Learning Term: “Getting to actually talk to people who have been through the things I am learning about.” Big Picture junior Alia Jenkins agreed and added, “It was really humbling serving the lunch and dinner and heartwarming to see how grateful the people were just to have a warm meal.”

Both Ms. Sargeant and Ms. Jenkins were part of a group that traveled to Boston in May to “explore the complex issue of homelessness,” noted Jason Cushner, Big Picture educator and coordinator of the program. A second Big Picture group studied Storytelling for Social Change, which culminated in a trip to New York City where “hearing people’s stories about why they go to different places and why they might come back helped me understand what ‘home’ means to different people,” reflected junior Ceal Giordano.  A third group extended their service learning internationally with Shore to Shore: Art with a Purpose by building bridges between  South Burlington; Alburgh, Vermont; and Ghana, West Africa, through art and human connection.

The Service Learning Term is an essential educational element in Big Picture, an innovative school-within-a-school at South Burlington High School (SBHS), where the twenty-nine students enrolled work closely with faculty to design their own curriculum based on their interests and internships. “We believe that students learn best when they are doing something that they are passionate about and in a way that is relevant and meaningful to them,” states Big Picture’s website.

Vermont Secretary of Education Armando Vilaseca understands the value of a Big Picture education: “I believe the Big Picture program is beneficial to students as it provides them with an opportunity to tailor their high school education around an area of interest. This flexibility allows students to design a program through interdisciplinary learning that makes school more engaging and relevant to the students.”

Additionally, Patrick Burke, SBHS principal, has witnessed the impact of the Service Learning Term: “Big Picture students and staff really benefit from the multiple opportunities they have to embrace ‘learning in the real world.’ Service Learning Term projects are built around our students’ academic goals; they have proven to be extremely valuable learning experiences for everyone involved.”

Students are well aware of the worth in applying their learning to the real world. Senior Jake Corron discovered the significance of “being comfortable in a community different from my own” on the service trip to Brooklyn, while junior Brittany Manos’ participation in the study of homelessness made her “very grateful for what I have, very aware of my surroundings, and tells me that I can always do more.” Junior Sandra Burt, when asked what was most meaningful for her about the Service Learning Term, concluded, “Feeling like I made a difference.”

SOURCE: Susie Merrick, Contributor