By Todd Cohen
JAMESTOWN, N.C. — The Guilford Public Schools awarded 531 service-learning diplomas in the school year that ended in June to students who had performed at least 175 hours of volunteering, with all students involved in service-learning last year contributing over 167,000 hours worth an estimated $3.5 million.
Now, the school system is partnering with a Jamestown nonprofit to pilot service-learning clubs in six high schools that will work with students to raise money to finance a three-week trip abroad that will expose them to international service they can use to inform their volunteering at home.
Brenda Elliott, executive director of student services and character development for the Guilford Public Schools, says the partnership will provide a global perspective for service-learning students who otherwise might never have the opportunity to travel abroad.
The schools’ partner in the global initiative is Dustin’s GreenHouse, a nonprofit created in 2002 by the family of Dustin Green, a graduate of Ragsdale High School who had begun his freshman year at N.C. State University but died after the driver of a Jeep in which he was a passenger ran a red light on campus and was hit by another car.
After he graduated from high School, his parents, Martin and Lou Green, both sales representatives for Oracle Software, treated their son to a three-week backpacking trip in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, an experience that changed the way he looked at life.
So they created the nonprofit to try to provide similar experiences for underserved and under-recognized high school students in Guilford County.
Operating with an annual budget of roughly $60,000, all of it from fundraising and private donations, the all-volunteer organization has hosted students on trips to Central America, South America, South Africa and Eastern Europe.
Now, Dustin’s GreenHouse has applied for grants from the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, High Point Community Foundation, and State Farm Youth Advisory Board to support the new pilot program in the Guilford Public Schools, says Martin Green, who serves as volunteer executive director of the nonprofit.
Modeled on a service-learning club it created last year at Grimsley High School in Greensboro that has 35 student members, the nonprofit is talking with other high schools about creating clubs.
The Grimsley club has provided food for homeless people, helped with a house-cleaning for a halfway house for people who are HIV-positive, and volunteered for an autism agency.
And Green took a class at the Center for Creative Leadership that provided training in how to teach leadership skills to students.
To set the stage for creating service-learning clubs, Green is talking to principals about their possible interest in having clubs at their high schools.
At each of the six high schools that participate, Dustin’s GreenHouse will enlist a team of two students and a teacher who then will recruit other students for the clubs, which will begin operating next spring and raising money for a trip abroad next summer.
The clubs also will be developing campaigns for their schools to promote service learning and global awareness, which also is a priority of the public schools.
And they will be learning how to raise money to support service-learning trips abroad.
“It’s a global society and students need to be globally aware,” Green says. “And we need to give students a vehicle to get there.”