By Tom Larson
The Morris Area Service Learning program was inducted into the Minnesota Department of Education's Service Learning Hall of Fame.
Cheryl Kuhn, the Service Learning Coordinator for Community Education, received the plaque recently.
The program members were to receive the award in May during a meeting with Gov. Tim Pawlenty. But a dedication to service kept them away from the ceremony. The May ceremony was scheduled shortly after the Service Learning program's second E-waste electronics equipment recycling collection day. A strong wind came up and blew some of the electronic waste around the grounds, and the group had to spend the day rounding up the debris, Kuhn said.
"We had to stay back and do Service Learning," she said with a laugh, "so we couldn't go get our award."
The program has won the Minnesota Student Service Award in the past, and the projects it's undertaken over the years is impressive. That's the criteria for earning the hall of fame honor, Kuhn said.
"It's years and years of Service Learning, quality projects and being a leader in the state," she said.
The program was started about 10 years ago under former director Char Zinda. Kuhn has been director the last five years.
Over that time, the students have undertaken the Building Bridges of Friendship with Iraq, the Kids Voting program, the summertime Students of Service program, Morris Area Student Leaders, developing a recycling program in Morris Area schools, a well testing project, the E-waste collection, planning and building the city's skatepark, an interview project with World War II vets called Stories of Service, a career mentoring program, and the Banana Project, in which students brought bananas to the elderly to boost their potassium intake. Students also have been part of Learning Unlimited's National Issues forums.
Some of the programs began by Service Learning students continued on, Kuhn said.
"That's the best scenario," she said. "You start a project and it's important enough to the community that someone takes it over."
In addition to the recycling project, which is in its third year, Service Learning students are again involved in shoreline restoration on the Pomme de Terre River as part of the City of Morris' 10-year maintenance program.
The students this year are also working on the ReDirect project, with the help of Otter Tail Power, which supplied software that allows students to monitor the schools' energy use. The students chart spikes in energy use, determine the reason and think of possible ways to reduce energy use.
Service Learning is a way to incorporate all students and staff in the projects, connect with the community and get students involved who might not do so otherwise, Kuhn said.
"Kids who traditionally don't engage are the ones who get the most out of being out in the community, being hands-on," she said. "When they get involved, we've seen the difference. Attendance is up, interest is up."