New center is engaged for all-ages learning

Bridging the gap between community and schools is the purpose of the South Whidbey Community Engagement Center.

The center, which opened this month in the Camano Building in Langley, is the brainchild of Langley Middle School teacher Susie Richards.

Richards, who is also the center’s coordinator, said the CEC will provide resources and trainings for teachers, students and community members.

District officials hope the center can save teacher training dollars by reducing the amount of traveling to training sessions teachers must do. The first training at the center, “An Introduction to Service Learning” was held Jan. 15.

“Anytime we can provide quality training with grant dollars, that’s good, said Dan Blanton, the district’s assistant superintendent.

The center is funded through a federal Learn and Serve America grant and the Northwest Rural Grant Project. The center will receive $30,000 per year for three years under the terms of the grant.

In addition to paying the rent, the money will pay center employees Jane Aronson and Victoria Santos. The Langley software company, Big Mind Media, also housed in the Camano Building, will provide several computers and online service at the center.

Richards will be the lead instructor for many of the trainings with co-instructors, Aronson and Santos.

Others experts will be brought in for course’s including Larry Fletch, director of the Rural Grant Project, who will be teaching “Civic Engagement” on March 1.

Fletch said this week in a telephone interview that he likes the idea of having a learning space for teachers and students outside the school.

“One of the goals of the center is to more effectively engage young people in civic activities,” he said.

Peggy Anderson, director of the Center for School, Community and Family Partnerships, will be co-instructing in February on creating school and community partnerships.

Another use planned for the center is a teacher development center, where teachers can work on service learning projects, something that has become a major part of the curriculum at Langley Middle School in recent years. The school was one of 16 schools named as a national leader in service learning last year. Service learning projects at the school include the Youth in Philanthropy programs, Adventure Education, the annual Senior Prom dance, and the school’s recycling program.

South Whidbey was chosen as one of five communities in the Western United States to be a part of the Rural Grant Project and is the only school in Washington state to receive one of the project’s grants.

Richards said the center is a work in progress.

“We will be creating as we go along to meet the unique needs of our community,” she said. “No two of the five centers that have been funded in the Western United States will look the same, as each community is unique.”

Some current projects at center include monthly training programs, and an after school program for students age 5-9 beginning in late February. The center also provides public access to the its Web page as a resource for service-learning and linking schools. Richards said the center will also fund days for teacher planning, service-learning programs and units in their curriculum areas.

Learn more about the engagement center by logging on to

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