Celebrating Community Service Learning

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On a brisk December afternoon, two long-time friends share coffee, memories and laughs. Emma DeAngelis and Ann Hart admit to becoming one and the same, finishing each other’s thoughts and sentences and joking about a time where they worried they might show up in the same outfit. As they talk about the program, they pick up where the other left off in a flawless fashion they developed after working on a mutual goal side by side for 15 years. These two are the foundation of a landmark program that shines a national spotlight on L’Anse Creuse Public Schools: Community Service – Learning.

In 1992, when the L’Anse Creuse Board of Education voted to implement the community service graduation requirement, no one knew the impact it would have on the students, staff or community. There have been a few changes along the way since the inception of the program, but the goal has remained the same: providing academic learning and personal development of all students through service to the community.  

Emma started her journey as the Service-Learning Coordinator at L’Anse Creuse High School – North in 1992 and Ann took the same position at L’Anse Creuse High School in 1994. Both remember the way it felt in the beginning.

Emma described: “It felt like, here’s the job, now do something with it.” She knew she was starting with nothing and needed to create a solid structure for the program to be successful. Some of those first steps included setting student and organization expectations and best practices.

Ann recalls finding out about the requirement when her husband (Jack Hart) returned from a Board meeting. “I remember thinking, ‘You must be out of your mind!’” But then two years later she was offered the job, attended a national conference where she learned about connecting service with education, and from that point on she was in.

Focusing on the connection between service and education, the two began exploring the service-learning methodology. They began working to tie the program into the classroom, making both the service and the curriculum more relevant. Then in 1996, the district received its first Learn and Serve America grant to support the program.

Together the dynamic duo created a system that is still used today. “Emma is the talker and I’m the writer,” said Ann, acknowledging their strengths. “That is why we worked so well together. Emma could schmooze with anyone, anywhere, and I was very rigid and careful to see that everything was done right.”

To ensure that the program was running identically at both high schools, the two worked in unison to promote teacher involvement, provide workshops, and bring in guest speakers. They formed a service-learning advisory council that gave mini-grants to fund service-learning projects and they partnered with many local organizations to maximize opportunities. In addition to all the work they did for L’Anse Creuse, Ann and Emma would also present at the State and National level, meeting notable politicians in Washington D.C. and making an appearance on a PBS education-focused show.

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During their tenure, the success of the program was evidenced by several state and national awards. In 1998, Emma received the Governor’s Service Award and Ann earned that same honor in 1999. Then in 2002, L’Anse Creuse High School was selected as a “National Service Learning Leader School” by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). Two years later, the district received the “Spirit of Service Outstanding Program” by the CNCS. The list of awards goes on, with staff and students winning recognition as well.

Though these awards gave the district great recognition, neither Ann nor Emma considers these accolades to be the program’s biggest achievements. They believe the success of the program is measured by what the students gain from their experiences, the staff involvement and the connections made with all of the local non-profit organizations.

These measures of success is still strong today with the Class of 2018 (LCHS & LCHS-N) completing 67,549 community service hours in high school. Over the past 25 years students have explored career options, finding their career path or discovering what they don’t want to  pursue. Others are finding a passion for community service and helping those in need.

Of all the life lessons students have learned through the program, the one that resonates the most is that community is much more than a word. When a L’Anse Creuse graduate steps out into the adult world, they are highly educated and fueled with the knowledge that they can have a significant positive impact on their community.