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K-8 Service-Learning in Pickerington Local Schools: Building Empathy and Empowerment

In 2022, Charlie Brinn and Jenny Harris made a brave and innovative decision. As collaborating 6th grade teachers at Harmon Middle School in Pickerington, they reimagined their curriculum and adopted a project-based approach to instruction, with a special emphasis on service-learning. They became early implementers of authentic learning, a shift that is sure to impact other Harmon teachers and students in the years ahead.


“Our kids need positive real-life experiences,” says Harmon principal Jared Moore. “We need to make school more relevant and empowering, and authentic learning is a great way to do that. We’re already seeing the impact on empathy, collaboration, and deep learning.”


Over the past two years, Brinn and Harris’s 6th graders have completed a variety of service-learning projects, all connected with their curriculum standards. Two of the students’ favorite initiatives so far have been the Business of Raising Funds Project to benefit local charities and the Playground Improvement Project to benefit their own school. As “changemakers,” the students have seen their efforts result in tangible and significant benefits.

“We love the depth and breadth of learning that takes place,” says Brinn. “When completing authentic products for authentic audiences, our students feel nervous, proud, and tired, and they wish the experience lasted longer. In other words, our students actually CARE!"

"Authentic learning is the ‘Why?’ of learning,” adds Harris. “Kids put so much more effort and care into the things that they know are meant for real people.  Even a small thing like writing a poem to hang on a teacher's door has a whole new purpose and meaning."


Teachers and administrators at neighboring Tussing Elementary School are also embracing authentic learning. “We want this type of instruction to be an essential part of our culture,” says principal Matt Dansby. He and Harmon principal Jared Moore have joined forces in this regard, working closely with Ellen Erlanger and Kathy Meyer from Partnerships.


Led by Tussing assistant principal Chelsea Brown and the school’s Service-Learning Committee, teachers and students are designing an outdoor learning space, planting trees, and making other improvements to the school grounds and environment. They’re also developing curriculum-based activities to celebrate the rich history of the school. “Our students will have lots of new opportunities for learning, leadership, and service,” says Dansby. “We want to provide shared experiences they’ll never forget.”


Leslie Kelly, Pickerington’s Executive Director of Teaching and Learning, applauds these initiatives and similar efforts throughout the district. “We want service-learning and authentic learning to grow here,” she says. “These approaches can be truly empowering and transformative.”


NOTE: Pickerington’s high school efforts will be featured in a future newsletter.


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