The Wellspring: Historical Writing Project

By McCarthy, Megan | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

The Wellspring: Historical Writing Project

McCarthy, Megan, Academic Exchange Quarterly


Onekama Middle School teachers and students have embarked upon a three-part service learning project involving sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students in four classes: English, Computer Applications, Social Studies, and Michigan History. Students make connections with senior citizens in our community as they teach them about computer skills (Project NetGap), learn more about their lives (Oral History Project), and create a publication based on the lives of the senior citizens that is distributed county-wide (The Wellspring).



Our quiet village of Onekama, Michigan leisurely rests between grand Lake Michigan and a small inland lake called Portage Lake in Northern Michigan. There are only 500 year-round residents in Onekama village, and many of these are senior citizens who have retired "Up North" because of our peaceful setting. Although the retired community thrives, living as a teenager in Onekama is sometimes challenging. There are no fast food restaurant chains, no teen centers, and no movie theaters; in fact, there is not even a stoplight.

Being myself a transplant from the city, I can recognize all that our town has to offer--clean air, little traffic, kind neighbors, little crime. However, convincing my eighth grade students to look beyond the lack of excitement to recognize the value of our town is not often an easy task. In response to this challenge, the middle school teachers at Onekama School embarked upon a three-part Service Learning activity to help our students see that one of the greatest gifts of our town is the wealth of history, experience, and knowledge within the people surrounding us.

Service Learning as a Curricular Approach

We chose Service Learning as our approach because of the proven positive outcomes this method has demonstrated. Service Learning benefits students and the community at large while meeting academic objectives. Maddy Wegner states: "Reformers agree that the challenges lie in helping students feel their education is not only relevant but also critical, and in changing the relationships among students, teachers, administrators, and the larger community" (1993, 6). Service Learning is an answer to this challenge. Beyond the clear benefits for the community, research conducted by Learn and Serve America affirms the benefits for students and teachers who participate in Service Learning activities. According to one study, students involved in Service Learning maintained a lower-than-average risk of dropping out of school, had more positive changes in attitude concerning helping others and working in groups, and gained in communication skills, dealing with diversity, and being concerned about the well-being of others. Furthermore, teachers involved in Service Learning classroom projects demonstrated more positive attitudes about the competencies of their students. (1998, 1-2).

In 1998, the Onekama Consolidated School Educational Foundation was awarded a three year renewable $7,500 Community Based Organization (CBO) Learn & Serve Grant from the Michigan Community Service Commission. The grant was used to provide seed monies to develop and implement Project Netgap, a multi-level, intergenerational service-learning project aimed at reducing the student-citizen generation gap in the Onekama/Arcadia Consolidated School District. The focus of Project NETGAP is to assist students in improvement of their technology applications and local history knowledge while developing their personal and civic responsibility. Project Netgap has a unique multi-level design with seventh grade students mentoring local citizens in the use of computerized technology & the internet. These community citizens then each adopt a classroom, thereby volunteering to assist elementary and sixth grade students while sharing their expertise with local oral history information. Finally, eighth grade students collect the oral history data and publish this information using computerized publishing techniques. …

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