Indianapolis Public Schools alternative education sites like the Meridian Transition Academy and the Step Ahead Academy are used to being seen as places where students get back on track academically. But this year each academy also focuses significant time providing students with service learning experiences in addition to classroom time.

Among other opportunities, students have worked at:

  • Ronald McDonald House cleaning, dusting and vacuuming
  • Food pantries loading, unloading and sorting donations
  • Lilly Day Care Center groundskeeping, painting and organizing supplies
  • The YMCA, St. Elizabeth home and WFYI helping decorate and prepare for special events

Carolyn Barnes, Career/Community Service Learning Specialist for IPS, said such experiences are an important part of the work with the students. “It offers the students the opportunity to apply what they learn in the classroom to solve real-life situations. In the process, they develop academic and practical skills, build self-esteem, build character and become active participants in school and their community.”

To hear it from the students, the opportunities appear to be working. “We learn that we can make a difference,” said Antjuan O.

“It made me feel better to help people,” said James W.

Mark Cosand, Coordinator of the Meridian Transition Academy, is excited that his facility can offer such “diverse and unique opportunities to its students who haven’t always been able to participate in projects like these.” Ordinarily, Meridian Transition Academy students attend either a morning or afternoon shift for their classes, but Cosand notes some afternoon shift students have even been coming in early to take part in the service work.
Next on the work agenda for Meridian Transition Academy students is a chance to improve their own facility; they are going to help painters from the Facilities Management Division paint doors different bright colors.

Brian Burke, Principal of the Step Ahead Academy, said, “The students have returned from these trips with pride and an appreciation for everything they have at this time.” Burke’s comments reflect the recurring theme—that students learn as much or more from the opportunities as they give back in the services they provide.

Chris Sowar, a Math teacher at the Step Ahead Academy, accompanied his students to the Lilly Day Care Center for their service work. He said the students learned about gardening, landscaping, sanding and painting, even as they were learning “teamwork, diligence and responsibility.”
Sowar said, “While our message to the students has always revolved around the importance of using our service learning outings as a means of ‘giving back to our community,’ I think it’s safe to say that our kids received as much as they gave during this particular experience.”

Pride, responsibility, diligence—we’re excited to see how the service learning opportunities offered at our alternative education sites offer students a chance to grow not just as scholars, but as productive citizens.