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Member Kudos: Reading Beyond the Page, Swan Valley School District

2015 Education Excellence Award Recipient and Innovator of the Year

DashBoard, Oct. 28, 2015

The 20 recipients of the 2015 MASB/SET SEG Foundation Education Excellence Awards are some of the greatest examples of unique and innovative public school programs in the state of Michigan. Over the next few months, MASB will share the details of each program from their applications, presented in alphabetical order by district. This week we highlight Reading Beyond the Page at Swan Valley High in the Swan Valley School District. This program received special recognition as the Innovator of the Year for having the highest overall score.

Description: A true education goes well beyond the classroom—into the community, across our nation and into the world. Literacy and experiences are the center of all learning, and the focus of our annual reading theme that drives curriculum and threads social justice and civic responsibility throughout student learning.

From reading accounts of injustice and prejudice, and then working on Habitat for Humanity houses throughout our city, to studying abuse and then working together to build projects that are auctioned to battle child abuse, our students learn that the work of their hands and the lessons they share have the power to change the world and benefit others.

The annual crosscurricular collaborative community projects touch every student and discipline in our school and neighborhoods. Our goal for these projects is to take our students on a journey toward social responsibility through relevant literacy and learning activities that encompass both curricular ties and service projects. We focus on issues on the world level that deal with respect for human life, on the national level with government power and responsible citizenship, and on the school level with bullying and the way we treat one another.

Funding/Resources: Last year’s Read for Peace—Work for Justice theme included visits from six authors who taught lessons in tolerance, social justice, combating prejudice and living your life to benefit others, including Wendy Anderson Halperin ("Peace"), Ben Mikaelsen ("Touching Spirit Bear"), Steve Luxenberg ("Annie’s Ghosts"), Joe Darden and Richard Thomas ("Detroit"), and Judge Darnell Jackson ("The Steps of a Good Man").

Students read, wrote narratives, studied world conflicts, and then took action. They built and painted Adirondack chairs to raise money for the CAN Council, wrote and illustrated books for children in local shelters, and then worked on creating peaceful places in our community through the parks and recreation department.

Funds of $2,000 provided by the Saginaw Council for Arts and Enrichment, $500 from the Michigan Humanities Council, $500 from the Saginaw Community Foundation, and $500 from Follett were used for the reading and building activities. Judge Jackson volunteered his time, local businesses donated materials and Luxenberg’s visit was part of the Great Michigan Read program. The Saginaw Community Foundation granted $25,000 for our parks project and the Dow Corning Foundation provided an additional $5,000. The Carnival of Caring and Master the Art of Reading involved similar support and community initiatives.

Outreach: From Read for Peace—Work for Justice (2013-2014), Carnival of Caring (2012-2013), My Life—My Story (2011-2012) to Master the Art of Reading (2010-2011), staff, students and community members gather to develop the theme, examine needs in our school, neighborhood and world, and then develop ideas for how we can best create learning experiences that focus in the whole child as relevant factors in our community.

The process begins with the theme that is implemented throughout all areas of the curriculum. Stakeholders examine how they could benefit the community, and charities and partnerships are formed. Resources, including our students’ talents, staff assets, and local, state and national funding and programs are utilized. Communication with all of these groups helps to formulate teaching and learning experiences that benefit our students academically, socially and personally. Literacy ties together projects with relevant books that emphasize critical thinking through every subject area.

Critical thinking and problem solving are a direct response to learning. For the Read for Peace—Work for Justice program, students in various disciplines read titles from "How Do You Kill 11 Million People," which focused on genocide in World War II, to "Crazy Love," which is a memoir about abuse, to "Touching Spirit Bear," which teaches lessons about bullying. From the authors of "Detroit," which mapped out the Detroit race riots, they discovered that life is not about taking the easy way, and that we each control much of our own destiny. Author and Judge Darnell Jackson, in the midst of a horrific double murder trial, taught our students that they need to look beyond themselves to lead a life that benefits others. Wendy Anderson Halperin explained that peace starts with us, then moves into our homes and schools, then our cities and countries and the world, and that our actions, from caring for the earth that we live in to the way we treat each other, define our generations.

So the students read, investigated problems, reported on genocide today, human trafficking, poverty, crime and mental health, and then creatively came up with practical solutions that they could accomplish on our journey toward action and social justice.

Students helped to design the projects, helped to investigate sources and partnerships, and worked as teams to implement programs. Their creative efforts resulted in designs and presentations that included posters and videos, tweets and Facebook announcements, along with articles and newsletters.

Upperclassmen and team leaders mentored younger students to design, build and paint Adirondack chairs, and then auctioned them off. Students worked as teams to improve our parks and trails in an effort to improve quality of life for all of our residents.

Collaboration and partnerships with businesses, local foundations, government, the Library of Michigan, Michigan Humanities Council and national organizations helped to make this program, and previous year’s programs, a reality. Funding and the resources these groups provide, from author visits and books, to building materials, funding for events and even tools, are crucial to the program’s success. Volunteers, experts in the field, speakers and donated services are integral to each phase.

The takeaways from these lessons are far reaching. Statistics on the problems associated with high school dropouts conclude that students who are involved in service learning feel more connected to school and are more successful and less likely to drop out. Research also indicates that students who are connected to mentors establish positive relationships and are more likely to succeed in school. Self-satisfaction and pride and a sense of accomplishment are intrinsic rewards found in a job well done.

These projects all translate into what Judge Jackson defines as success, “Meaningful work that benefits others.”

The purpose of public education is to create productive citizens, which these programs teach, challenging students to learn, research, analyze and problem solve. They evaluate and create, share their skills, and communicate needs and solutions that improve life, like they did when they raised funds and packaged up more than 20,000 meals for the world’s Kids Against Hunger Program.

Research on communities indicates that those with parks and trails have lower crime rates, higher property values and happier residents.

Master the Art of Reading provided free art workshops and supplies to students, residents and children throughout the county, and funding for the CAN Council and to provide after-school sack lunches to children through the East Side Soup Kitchen.

My Life—My Story focused on stories of hardship and need, and the idea that “everyone deserves a decent house to live in,” and Habitat for Humanity.

Results: If you want students to achieve in the traditional school setting, they have to come to school. Student engagement as part of the total curriculum and school culture encourages student attendance and academic success. Students need to feel like school is a place where they belong, where they are an integral part of the school community and where they have something to contribute.

School climate studies are often indicators of student achievement and success. Climate and culture are often part of the hidden curriculum that identifies one school from another. How students feel about school often determines how they achieve academically. Participation levels in extracurricular projects, along with post-secondary civic engagement of graduates, help to determine the overall success of our programs.

Student discipline, infractions of rules and student attendance all help to paint a true picture of what student success looks like.

Across the nation, studies have shown that ninth grade is the make or break year for students, and that freshmen students fail more classes than any other grade in school. This is not true at our school. Overall, our student are successful, with freshmen failures level with other grades.

Average daily attendance at our school is approximately 97 percent and our graduation rate is more than 95 percent.

Our school is open to everyone, and more than 30 percent of our students receive free and reduced lunch, and one-third of our pupils are schools of choice.

Academic achievement is often measured in how we fare in the state and national arenas. Our curriculum is designed to meet the needs of all students, and we offer Advanced Placement classes and more than 50 hours of coursework on site that students can earn additional college credit through an articulation program with Delta College. Our technology students and Business Professionals of America students successfully compete at the state and national levels, earning state and national titles for their efforts.

Our graduates are offered an annual average of $1.5 to 2 million in college scholarships for their academic achievement in high school. Approximately 90 percent of our students go on to post-secondary studies. Proficiency levels on state testing have increased over the past four years.

Our National Honor Society standards require a .25 higher grade point average than what is required by the state and national organization, and service work and stringent character references. Yet, an average of one-third of our senior class is inducted into the National Honor Society.

The industrial arts students fare extremely well at regional and state MITES competitions. Our writing team has been conference champions for three of the last four years, and our Model UN team and Quiz Bowl teams are competitive as well.

Participation levels in all of these groups, including Law Day, Strive 4 a Safer Drive and many other campaigns indicate involvement of our students.

Reading Beyond the Page, mentoring and social responsibility through this program, help to define our students and pave the road for their academic success, and more than half of our students earn academic honors.

One-hundred percent of our students complete a senior project each year, many with a service component. Last year, one student spent three weeks in Africa for her project.

At 17, she worked with a team to bring food and clothing to the village of Lukulu, Zambia, better known as “The Town of Plenty.”

She claimed that, “even though they live in severe poverty, most without shoes on their feet, they live up to their name. The people of Lukulu are rich in spirit, rich in faith and rich in love.”

She spent long days working to meet the needs of the children and families in the village, refurbishing and stocking their library, tearing up and rebuilding a basketball court, helping in the schools and working with the Mother’s Milk program.

Her final message: “There are people out there with absolutely nothing, barefooted, walking on hot stones and barbed wire, that are happier than people who just bought the newest iPhone or brand new Nike shoes. If you do anything today, do as the Africans do. Find your happiness in others. Make someone laugh, help someone who is struggling, take a break from work and spend time with loved ones, or simply share some kind words or a friendly wave.”

We CONNECT THE DOTS for students—bridging community resources, speakers and opportunities, helping them to go beyond what they could envision to make learning a significant life experience, which is what academic achievement truly is.

Additional Information: Success breeds success, and as our community program grew, so did our funding. The following chart illustrates partnership support and funding:

Community Partnerships and Funding

 

2010-2011

MICHIGAN HUMANITIES COUNCIL

$500

2010-2011

LIBRARY OF MICHIGAN

$500

2010-2011

MEIJER

$407

2010-2011

VOLUNTEER START - UNITED WAY

$1,150

2010-2011

SAGINAW ARTS COUNCIL

$1,000

2010-2011

WE ARE TEACHERS

$329

2010-2011

MEMBERS FIRST CREDIT UNION

$100

2010-2011

DANNY HUGHES/HORACE MANN (DONORS CHOOSE)

$379

2010-2011

AASL CAPSTONE

$100

2010-2011

DONORS CHOOSE

$352.69

Total 2010-2011

 

$4,817.69

2011-2012

MICHIGAN HUMANITIES COUNCIL

$500

2011-2012

FOLLETT

$10,000

2011-2012

DUC—ART BOOK GRANT

$1,596.30

2011-2012

AASL CAPSTONE

$210

2011-2012

We Are Teachers

$150

2011-2012

SAGINAW COMMUNITY FOUNDATION

$500

2011-2012

DONORS CHOOSE

$243.48

2011-2012

Capstone

$210

2011

VOLUNTEER START -UNITED WAY

$1,100

2011-2012

LOWES

$2,000

2011-2012

Michigan Notable Author Tour—MI Humanities Council/MDE—Johnson Author Visit

$400

2011-2012

AASL

$2,000

Total 2011-2012

 

$18,909.78

2012-2013

DUC—Art Book Grant

$9,000

2012-2013

Strive 4 a Safer Drive

$2,000

2012-2013

Author David MacGregor

$400

2012-2013

Michigan Author Tour
Volunteer START-United Way

$400

2012-2013

AASL SLPY—Follett

$10,000

2012-2013

World Book Night

$500

2012-2013

STRIVE 4 A SAFER DRIVE

$278

2012-2013

SET SEG

$400

Total 2012-2013

 

$22,978

2013-2014

ABC-CLIO

$75

2013-2014

Donors Choose

$257.61

2013-2014

STRIVE 4 A SAFER DRIVE

$2,000

2013-2014

SAG ARTS & ENRICH COMM

$1,000

2013-2014

CAPSTONE

$45

2013-2014

NEXTEER AUTOMOTIVE

$10,000

2013-2014

EDUMEDIA

$30

2013-2014

GREAT MICHIGAN READ

$500

2013-2014

GREAT MI READ AUTHOR VISIT

$400

2013-2014

MEIJER

$100

2013-2014

SAG ARTS & ENRICH COMM

$1,000

2013-2014

SCF

$500

2013-2014

Read for Peace

$166

2013-2014

MICHIGAN NOTABLE AUTHOR

$400

2013-2014

SAGINET

$845

2013-2014

WORLD BOOK NIGHT

$500

2013-2014

MICHIGAN HUMANITIES COUNCIL

$500

2013-2014

COMMUNITY GRANT—SCF

$25,000

2013-2014

COMMUNITY GRANT—SCF

$5,000

Total 2013-2014

 

$48,318.61

Community Support Provided by Program is listed in following chart:

Year Program Support Efforts Approx Participation Numbers

2013-2014

Thomas Township Parks and Trails

Trailhead building, building tables, painting, clearing trails, building and setting up displays

190+ students and 15 staff

 

CAN Council

Building of Adirondack chairs, chair auction, children's books written and illustrated, peace quilt

120 students and 20 staff

 

Kids Against Hunger

Raised funds and packaged 20,000+ meals

65 students

 

Arms Around Sierra Leone

Raised funds for prosthetic limbs

150 students

 

Special Olympics

Winter and spring

100+ students and 2 staff

2012-2013

Thomas Township Parks and Trails

Building displays, painting, clearing trails

180 students and 15 staff

 

Arms Around Sierra Leone

Raised funds for prosthetic limbs

150 students

 

Special Olympics

Winter and spring

100+ students and 2 staff

 

CAN Council

Books and penny drive

All school

2011-2012

Habitat for Humanity

Raised funds and worked on houses

30+ students and 3 staff

 

Thomas Township Parks and Trails

Cleaning parks, painting, clearing trails

170 students and 15 staff

 

Arms Around Sierra Leone

Raised funds for prosthetic limbs

150 students

 

Special Olympics

Winter and spring

100+ students and 2 staff

 

CAN Council

Pinwheel project

100+ students and 10 staff

2010-2011

CAN Council

Raised funds, book drive, art supplies and workshops

100+ students and 10 staff

 

Thomas Township Parks and Trails

Painting, clearing trails, working on parks

160 students and 15 staff

 

Arms Around Sierra Leone

Raised funds for prosthetic limbs

150 students

 

Special Olympics

Winter and spring

100+ students and 2 staff

Program Coordinator: Kay Wejrowski, Library Media Specialist, kwejrow@swanvalley.k12.mi.us

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