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Stephen P. Robinson Collaboration Grant Report: Shorecrest Preparatory School, St. Petersburg, FL

Wednesday, January 24, 2018  
Posted by: Christina Mimms
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By Jonathan Davis, Middle School Head, and Diego Duran-Medina, Director of Service Learning

The origin of the Center for Service Leadership Learning (CSLL) and the application for the SAIS collaboration grant was more than two years ago. At that point, it was just a dream and a vision. The Stephen P. Robinson SAIS Collaboration Grant helped us move forward to make CSLL a reality. As middle school head and director of service learning, we held bi-weekly meetings to give us consistent time to touch base and keep things moving forward. At one of these meetings, the conversation turned to a desire to see better training for teachers and administrators for more authentic service learning and how to best implement it at an independent school. We took a look at the landscape of service-learning professional development at both the regional and national levels and decided that we could make a compelling case for CSLL, and we are grateful that SAIS believed in our vision.

We cannot underscore enough the difference that the SAIS grant made in being able to make this CSLL dream a reality. Once we found out in February 2017 that we were awarded the grant, we kicked into high gear: developing a website, forming a marketing and recruitment plan, and spending dozens of hours planning out the details of the institute to ensure that the program would be challenging, innovative, and impactful. We think that quality service-learning is needed across all independent schools because it is sound educational practice and because our world increasingly demands better solutions to more complex problems. We believe a good education begins with both academic and character development, and both are related to developing empathy, understanding, and better learning outcomes through service, volunteering and social entrepreneurship. Finally, we believe that true service-learning is already embedded in the mission statements of SAIS member schools. We focused on a professional development program for teachers because of the impact and scope that one educator can have on all of their students and colleagues. Investing in teachers and administrators means that whole school communities can be improved and changed through service-learning pedagogy.

Over the past decade, Shorecrest developed assets and programs that position the school to be a leader in service-learning and civic engagement. We have strong partnerships with more than 25 nonprofit organizations across the Tampa Bay region, the nation and the world. We are excited to leverage our relationships into learning partnerships for our faculty for the benefit of SAIS schools, communities and students. While many of these partnerships are local, there are similar organizations in every community.

The week of the institute last year combined theoretical, experiential and practical learning, all based around service-learning and civic engagement. Our days consisted of personal reflections, readings from authors writing on service-learning, practical application to the respective school communities represented and on-site visits to three of our strongest community partners to model what high-quality service learning partnerships look like. Participants were encouraged to bring real-life scenarios, which helped ground the theory in day to day reality. We also asked each participant or team to both define service learning in a context that works for their own values and the mission of their school and to finish the week with a working plan that could be implemented upon returning to their campuses.

In 2017, the institute visited Keep Pinellas Beautiful, a conservation and environmental education group with national affiliates through Keep America Beautiful; Goodwill Industries, Inc., a national organization dedicated to employment, education and training for marginalized communities; and Kind Mouse, Inc., a small but mighty food pantry dedicated to feeding the hungry families and children in Pinellas County. All three offer sample programming and curricula that can be adapted to the communities of our participants, which is one of the core strengths of the institute. In offering exposure to the universal themes of education, employment with dignity, hunger awareness and the environment, we offer a powerful template for our participants to bring home with them once they complete CSLL.

Feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive. We received comments from attendees, so we made slight adjustments, such as making it more affordable for a school to send a pair of participants. We also offer cost incentives for being an SAIS school and additional savings for registering early. For 2018, we aim to work more closely with each participant and are considering separate administrator/teacher tracks or possibly a novice/advanced separation to better address the unique needs of each participant or school team.

One of the most exciting developments in store is the development and unveiling of an online community powered by our participants. We picture this as an online community where alumni and current participants can pose questions, dilemmas, share articles and collaborate with each other in a way that increases the level of conversation and practice around service learning within independent schools. We hope that this online community is also the beginning of a large scale conversation across all independent schools on how to think about and implement service learning, with a specific focus on those teachers and administrators tasked with implementing the pedagogy.

We had an incredible first summer of CSLL in 2017 and we are thrilled to be able to offer this opportunity again in 2018. We look forward to beginning our recruitment season in January 2018 and look forward to an even more powerful professional development experience. We hope to recruit 10-15 educators for summer 2018 and continue expanding the reach of CSLL. We believe this is an institute that can survive on its own and continue to provide top quality professional development for the SAIS community and beyond. We hope to re-engage our alumni to help recruit others and are seeking to expand our reach into SAIS schools and beyond.

The SAIS Collaboration Grant enabled Shorecrest to take a chance on developing a service-learning summer institute. Fortunately, the first year was successful enough that CSLL is now self-sustaining. Our hope is to continue this work and to assist our fellow schools in developing meaningful, local, student driven programs and curriculum. To see more details about the program, please visit the CSLL web site.


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