From the Classroom to Capitol Hill

Last week, the National Youth Leadership Council hosted a public briefing to discuss how the Guilford County school district in Greensboro, North Carolina achieved high levels of academic success by implementing a character development and service-learning initiative. Three years after the initiative began the district has reduced the number of low-performing schools from ten to zero.

Convened by North Carolina’s Senator Kay Hagan (D) and Representative Howard Coble (R), a panel of speakers including Guilford County Schools Superintendent Maurice Green, high school students Tyler Hardin and Alhosainy Altaher, and representatives from GCS, NYLC, Communities in Schools, and the Department of Education gathered to discuss the academic and civic successes the district has achieved and how service-learning has contributed to district-wide improvement.

"Service-learning answers the questions students are always asking: why am I learning this? Why do I need to know this?" said Brenda Elliot, Executive Director, Student Services and Character Development at GCS. "It is helping reignite the passion of teachers for education. It ignites creativity and wonder in youth."

Guilford County Schools serves more than 72,000 students and is North Carolina’s third largest school district, ranking among the 50 largest nationally. Out of 13 schools in North Carolina to achieve 100-percent graduation rates in 2011, eight were in Guilford County. The 2011 school year also saw the highest level of collegiate financial scholarships awarded to students with more than $120 million in scholarship funds.

Superintendent Green identified service-learning as a key strategy in the district’s character development initiative. “We wanted to get to a place where all of our young people understood their place in the world and how they can make an impact,” said Green. Service-learning is a way of teaching that helps students use what they are learning in the classroom to solve community problems. Since 2010, NYLC has provided district-wide professional development to teachers and high school students to become service-learning leaders, and is using lessons learned in GCS to help transform other school districts across the United States. 

Panel participants included two students from high schools in GSC who shared their perspectives as service-learning ambassadors and their opinions on education reform. Tyler Hardin, 17, said, "Taking part in these projects has really opened my eyes to see just how the youth of today can really make a difference whether it affects just one person or an entire community." Alhosainy Altaher, 17, described a service-learning project called Burrito Bikers, a local effort to build awareness about poverty and alleviate hunger by distributing burritos to the homeless on bike, which made an impact on his ability to understand his community.

“There is no single solution to educational reform and student achievement, but strong leadership, professional development, and use of high quality service-learning combined with true community partnerships are a recipe for district-wide student success, as we’ve seen in Guilford County,” said Kelita Bak, NYLC CEO and moderator of the briefing.

View photos from this event on the NYLC Facebook page

Click here to see a video of the full briefing.