By Jody Steinberg

Cross Keys High School has been awarded a Learn and Serve America $25,000 grant for two innovative programs designed to connect students and curriculum to the Hispanic community to improve health, reduce childhood obesity and train adults in on-job skills.

“I’m a big advocate of Learn and Serve, because I have seen academic achievement increase. I have seen students’ attitude towards school improve, and I have seen students want to go to school and want to be a part of school because they’re taking ownership in their own learning,” says Glenda Bonds, who submitted the grant application for Cross Keys.

Service learning is when students take academic lessons and apply them to real-world situations outside the classroom in ways that improve their communities, explains Joe Turner, director of the Georgia Commission for Service and Volunteerism. GCSV administers the K-12 grant program, which originates from the Corporation for National and Community Service. Twelve grants totaling $538,000 were awarded this year in Georgia, says Turner, some of which will be redistributed in smaller amounts by the grantees.

Bonds coordinates work-based learning, apprenticeships, SkillsUSA and other career technology programs for Cross Keys and will help develop and manage the projects under the grant. She has handled similar smaller grants before at DeKalb’s High School Technology-North, where she was based until it merged with Cross Keys last year.

Cross Keys students from career tech, health and science classes will design and teach job skills, including resume writing, as well as health and nutrition, including meal planning, to adults at the Latin-American Association. They will also teach nutrition and gardening and discuss food choices with fifth-graders at Woodward Elementary, addressing childhood obesity through positive role modeling.

“The goal is to retrain the parents and educate the children,” says Bonds. Many of the students will be Hispanic and will provide services to their own community by working through the Latin-American Association.

Grant funds can be used to bring in specialists who help students translate their goals into civic action and for resources such as nutrition charts, gardening equipment, presentation and office supplies, transportation and other materials not provided through the standard curriculum.

“Service learning has to be tied back to one of the academic components that they are studying,” explains GCSV Learn and Serve Coordinator Lori Bodine. Components of each project must align with specific Georgia Performance Standards – the academic objectives specified by the state department of education. The goal is that students will take material learned in the classroom and use it to identify and serve needs in the community, and that hands-on experience will teach real-world skills and reinforce the academic curriculum.

When students use what they learn in the classroom to serve their own community, everyone benefits, says Bonds. While teachers instruct from the curriculum, students must take that information and translate it into effective presentations.

“Students decide what they are going to present and how to present it,” says Bonds. “They must take charge of what they are doing. Service learning increases literacy skills and motivates students. We see achievement grow and leadership develop.”