Service-learning brings classrooms to connect with the world

September 10, 2018 — by Shama Gupta

The 60 students of Jennifer Mantle’s AP statistics class walked around the Guadalupe river last spring, using their knowledge gained from a year of statistics to evaluate how the conditions affected the trash around the river.

They finished by picking up all the trash they had recorded. Today their data is being used by the city of San Jose on an ongoing study about river pollution.

This is just one example of how classes and clubs at the school have implemented service learning, which takes students into communities and gives them opportunities to help, using what they have learned in class.

Tim Galleher, who volunteers as the school’s service learning coordinator, considers his role as being an additional helping hand for students and teachers. He started the service-learning program in 2013 with the hope of connecting classrooms with the community through social works and volunteer projects.

Since he has been involved in the Saratoga community for 21 years at both the schools and as a pastor at the Saratoga Federated Church, Galleher helps students find ways to create lasting impact in the community through his various connections with people and organizations.

Service-learning has dramatically taken off at the school since it first began five years ago. At the start, Galleher recalls how the program faced several obstacles.

“I went and talked to all the teachers, and nobody wanted to do anything,” Galleher said.

The first teacher to openly support the program was physics teacher Jenny Garcia. When she coordinated with Galleher in 2013, he helped connect her classroom with Sacred Heart Community Services. Inspired by the idea, Garcia’s physics students were given the option to plan and teach a physics lesson to young children for their final project.

Garcia, who said she wanted her kids to get more hands-on experiences, recalled how pleased she was to find how many of her students chose to do the service-learning project. Even though she has not been able to repeat the project in the years since because of timing issues, she said she would love the chance to try it again.

Since this first effort, more and more students have become involved in service learning, both in student-run clubs like Interact and Red Cross, as well as in classrooms. For example, last year, 120 AP Environmental Science students did a service-learning project and volunteered a total of 500 hours.

Additionally, 2018 alumni Gina Hinojosa, Julia Miller, Aashir Singh and Danni Horwitz from the Media Arts Program presented a project called “Speak No Evil” as their senior project. In the film, students portray the abusive relationship of a couple who met online. Their documentary is now being used in partnership with YWCA to help train volunteers in recognizing domestic abuse.

These, along with almost 30 other projects last year, are just the beginning of what Galleher imagined when he first started volunteering at Saratoga High.

“When I first talked to the school, my dream for the foundation was for students to end up doing projects on their own and carry out their own dreams,” he said.

Although Galleher remembers thinking that the idea was possibly unrealistic when the program started, his initial vision has already started to come true after only five years.

One notable success story was a recent effort by the robotics team. Last summer, Galleher connected them to Mayfair Community Center, where members taught kids living in San Jose how to build robots.

Junior Krisha Minocha, who was in charge of the team’s trip to San Jose, said she enjoyed using her regular skills in a different way and had fun sharing those skills with others.

She described the setting as one with a “family feel” to it and said they played games with the kids along with helping them 3D-print cars they designed on computers.

Minocha said it was amazing to connect with children from less privileged backgrounds and realize how easily they can understand advanced concepts.

In the end, Galleher said that the real difference is being made when students can take what they’ve learned in class and apply it in helping the real world. As the school year starts, Galleher hopes to continue building opportunities for students to volunteer and serve.

“People are doing individual projects, and it’s really just taking off!” Galleher said. “We’ve grown so much as a school.”

 

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