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They learn to serve

What happens when 520 Langley Middle School students and three dozen faculty members are mixed with a strong desire to perform community service?

The answer is a service learning program that merits national recognition.

Shoveling mud to restore a wetland and giving thousands of dollars to South Whidbey nonprofit organizations are just two of the many service learning projects at LMS, which competed recently against 200 middle and high schools to become one of 16 recognized last week as National Service Learning Leader Schools by the Corporation for National and Community Service. The corporation is a federal agency that offers Americans of all ages the opportunity to serve their country and its citizens.

LMS Principal Greg Willis said the honor justifies the school's emphasis on service learning.

"The recognition of our program reinforces my belief that service learning creates powerful connections between what students learn in the classroom and apply in the outside world," he said, "the bridge it builds between the school and community and the students' connection to their own humanity."

Willis said the award reflects his view of the special nature of South Whidbey as a place where service and volunteerism are important.

The schools "Learning Service Program," which was founded in the mid-1980s, teaches students academic subjects while developing working and citizenship skills.

Susie Richards, the coordinator of the project, said service learning is about more than just education.

"These kids really make a difference in our community, combining real work with learning," Richards said.

Staff and students develop service learning programs each year. Some are continued from year to year, and new ones are also added. The highest profile projects at the school are an ongoing wetland restoration project on school grounds and the "Youth in Philanthropy" class.

The Youth in Philanthropy program is made up of eighth grade English-communications students. They are in the midst of granting $10,000 to local nonprofit organizations focused on children, youth and families.

Another LMS project is the seventh-grade "Make a Difference Service-Learning," in which students spent three days learning about groups, organizations and individuals who "make a difference." At the end of the five-week project, all students create an artifact from their service-learning experience. The artifacts can be added to their portfolios demonstrating a learning standard or civic connection.

"Development of responsibility and a sense of worth for our students is the cornerstone of all of our programs," said Richards.

The only other school west of the Mississippi River to be reconzied for service learning this year is in Santa Fe, N.M. More than 1.5 million students nationwide participate in service-learning programs.

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