ENCINITAS — Olivenhain Pioneer Elementary School has the distinction of receiving the 2008-2009 Service Learning Leader Award. According to school officials it is one of 11 schools statewide to receive the prestigious award and the only school in San Diego County to be recognized.
The award is given annually by the California Department of Education and Learn and Serve.
Through service learning, students are encouraged to improve the lives of others locally and across the globe. At the same time, the students develop leadership skills, learn how to work together and individually to achieve goals, and develop a sense of responsibility to the community. To qualify for the award, students had to apply academic skills and knowledge to address real-life needs.
Principal Erin English, who began her tenure a little more than over a year ago, accepted the award, presented by California State Superintendent Jack O’Connell, at the Service Learning Leadership Institute in Anaheim on Feb. 10.
“It’s important to integrate service because the children are learning something other than strictly academics,” English said. “They’re learning empathy, compassion and all those things you can’t learn from a text book.”
Service Learning programs are encouraged at every grade level. “It empowers children to feel like they can make a difference in someone’s life,” English said.
Currently, students are raising money for airline tickets to fly children from Ethiopia to Los Angeles for life-changing surgeries through the program “Kids 4 Entoto.” Approximately 80 students are collecting pledges for running in the Junior Carlsbad 5000 race to fund the endeavor. However, the entire school is running laps during recess to get the team motivated.
“We’ve actually saved lives with these programs,” English said. “It’s so powerful.”
English said service programs are linked to improvements in multiple skills, including math, creative writing, public speaking, art and world studies.
“We tie it into the California standards so they are related to math, reading and writing,” she said.
While the programs run the gamut, each has the service learning link. “What I want is every person to find is their passion and bring it to the students so they can make a difference,” English said.
In “Jump for Heart,” students raised money for the American Heart Association and the Ariana Miller Foundation. A sixth-grade class developed a dog biscuit company called “Red Dawg” that bakes, markets and sells dog biscuits to raise money for training guide dogs. The class also takes part in “Paws to Read,” a program to improve reading proficiency in younger children.
Another student business sells produce and flowers from the school garden to raise money for charity.
Kelly McCormick, a member of the Parent Teacher Association, said that integrating service is an imperative part of learning. “It accomplishes the learning objectives and at the same time it gives the kids opportunities to give back to the community,” she said. “As children grow up I think it makes them become better community-minded citizens.”
McCormick’s daughter’s second-grade class will be selling lady bugs later this month to raise money for a school in Cambodia.