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United We Serve - Serve.gov

I’m proud to announce that Vol State’s Service-Learning project is featured on Serve.org’s  “Stories of Service” blog.

United We Serve

United We Serve” is a nationwide service initiative that will help meet growing social needs resulting from the economic downturn. With the knowledge that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things when given the proper tools, President Obama is asking us to come together to help lay a new foundation for growth. This initiative aims to both expand the impact of existing organizations by engaging new volunteers in their work and encourage volunteers to develop their own “do-it-yourself” projects. United We Serve is an initial 81 days of service but will grow into a sustained, collaborative and focused effort to promote service as a way of life for all Americans.

Noticed by NEEF

Don’t you love to get noticed for what you do? Sure, we all do.  I’m a little late in posting this, but I’m proud to announce that the Vol State Service-Learning project at Bledsoe got some national attention last May.

The folks at National Public Lands Day, a  National Environmental Education Foudation Program (NEEF), featured the Bledsoe Creek State Park project in their May 13, 2009 newsletter.  This newsletter is sent out to over 6000 people! npld

The article described the project and the long-term impacts of S-L.  Here’s a quote:

Pitts found that combining service opportunities with classroom teaching made the instruction more meaningful to students. “Students were unable to connect their lives with the hypothetical situations presented in the classroom. Bledsoe Creek State Park is a part of the students’ community and has a real problem students can relate to and then see the immediate results of their efforts.”

It focused on the way one day of volunteerism for NPLD inspired a semester-long project and highlighted upcoming programs inspired by the project.

Some students were so inspired by the event that they proposed an initiative to involve K-12 public school students in the effort. This spring semester, Volunteer State Public Speaking students are working with the Friends of Bledsoe Creek State Park to develop a proposal for a new Student Club to start in Fall 2009, designed to get Sumner County public school children out of the classroom and into the park to learn about environmental science through fun, hands-on exploration.

Look for more about the S.O.S.  Club (Sumner Outdoor Students) in the fall!

Sos logo jp

Isn’t nature cool?

If you were part of last semester’s Big Ditch Dig, you probably remember what the area above the parking lot looked like before:


And if you were one who helped sow grass seed last fall, you’ll be proud to see what it looks like now:


Here’s another clever reflection idea: create a graphic representation of the service project. This was part of one student’s reflection activity for his Service-Learning work with Books from Birth of Middle Tennessee. I especially like the way he includes small pictures of the team’s actual work (the flyers and the conversation on the computer screen) on the graphic.

(click to enlarge)

Congratulations Amy Oaks

Congratulations are in store for Amy Oaks for the recent publication of her article in the May/June 2009 edition of The Tennessee Conservationist. Amy was a student in last semester’s Communication Class “Big Ditch Dig” service-learning project at Bledsoe Creek State Park.

No service-learning project is complete without a reflection activity, and I like students to have plenty of creative options when choosing an activity. Amy chose to write an article about the project and submit it to be considered for publication. She was thrilled when it was accepted, and I’m so proud of her accomplishment.

In the article, Amy explains that the “storm water was flooding sidewalks and parking lots, making these places potentially dangerous for visitors.” The decision to tunnel under the sidewalk was made, according to Amy, “through in-class meetings, phone calls” and communication on the Wiki.  Amy describes the sense of accomplishment when the project was completed:

The communication students swelled with pride as they watched the first storm water flow in the proper direction. ‘Y’all did a good job; it’s been working,’ says Wheeler, Park Maintenance Supervisor.

The article is not online, but you can subscribe to the magazine or call to order a copy.  

Although most of my S-L projects are in partnership with Bledsoe Creek State Park, students in the spring 2009, COM 100 class are working on an exciting project with Books from Birth of Middle Tennessee.  Our student newspaper, The Settler, ran a story about the project last week: http://media.www.settleronline.com/media/storage/paper1223/news/2009/04/20/News/Communication.Class.Volunteers.With.Books.From.Birth-3715158.shtml

Books from Birth is part of Dolly Parton’s mission to increase literacy by getting books into the hands of children. The program delivers one book a month to all children who are signed up from the time they are born to age five. The books are free to all children, regardless of socioeconomic status.

The project students are working to solve involves materials and services which are designed to help parents get the greatest benefits out of reading to their children.  Specifically, students are working to develop creative ways to market and distribute training sessions offered by BFBMT and Reading Activity Sheets  which accompany most books in the library.  

The students’ work will ultimately cumulate in a professional group presentation of their findings and suggestions to an audience of BFBMT board members. If the ideas and/or flyers are accepted, they may be incorportated into the official materials used by the organization.

But, even if all of their ideas are not used, this class of enthusiastic students will have gained valuable knowledge and real-world problem-solving experience. In the end, the class is about learning how to create meaningful messages and to effectively communicate those messages, whether in a classroom, in a boardroom, or in a conversation. Working with BFBMT has provided the opportunity for students to use these skills to grow into leaders, develop critical thinking strategies, and to help an organization in need.

Polar Bears at Bledsoe?

View more presentations from pittsj.

This Power Point shows how MJCA students found a way to combine seriousness and whimsy in their presentation. The audience of high school students loved it, not only taking away important safety information but private jokes as well to share while at the park.  After “preparing” to meet dinosaurs and polar bears, the little snake they DID discover hardly fazed them.

This semester, I’ve been so busy managing the following projects that I have failed to reflect upon them (a sure sign that I’m doing too much):

  1. COM 103 (Public Speaking) Students worked to create a proposal for an outdoor club for the students of Sumner County. They presented their proposal for the SOS club (Sumner Outdoor Students) to the Friends of Bledsoe Creek SP Board.  
  2. Mount Juliet Christian Academy Dual Enrollment Public Speaking students organized a two-day service project for Bledsoe Creek State Park for the entire Junior and Senior classes. They presented their project plans during an assembly period. The project included widening a narrow trail, clearing underbrush, and raking a walking path.
  3. Springfield High School Dual Enrollment Public Speaking students helped the school’s Senior Sponsors raise money for graduation expenses. The class presented their ideas to an audience of their peers, collected donations, and helped organize fundraisers including a yard sale and hat day.
  4. East Robertson High Dual Enrollment students worked in teams to find solutions to various school-based problems including a need for increased student counseling services, improving the quality of cafeteria food, and investigating the funding policies of sports’ booster clubs.
  5. Finally, students in COM 100 (Fundamentals of Communication) are working with Books from Birth of Middle Tennessee to create marketing and distribution strategies for the organization’s training sessions and supplemental reading activity sheets. 

Reflections to follow. . .

Project news published!

Fundamentals of Speech Communication in Action

A lot of folks on Vol. State’s campus have been asking the question: How is ditch-digging relevant to a Communication class?  The answer is Service-Learning. Last semester, seventy students from Jennifer Pitts’ Fundamentals of Communication classes partnered with Friends of Bledsoe Creek State Park in Gallatin, TN, to help Bledsoe Creek State park solve a storm water drainage problem.

Service-Learning, according to the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse, “combines service objectives with learning objectives with the intent that the activity change both the recipient and the provider of the service. This is accomplished by combining service tasks with structured opportunities that link the task to self-reflection, self-discovery, and the acquisition and comprehension of values, skills, and knowledge content.”

One student described the Service-Learning project as “Fundamentals of Speech Communication in action.” Another student said, “When I registered for this class, I figured we would sit in class every day, listen to lectures, and then be forced to speak in front of people we barely knew. Instead, we were given a problem, asked to use our tools of communication to brainstorm effective solutions, and then implement those physically.”

The assignment was two-fold: the “service part” and the “learning part.” Students were required to put in five hours of service at the park. They were not graded on the quality of their service, but they were not eligible to earn points for the “learning part” until they completed the five hour service requirement.

The “service part” of the project was ambitious, challenging, and at times overwhelming. The students focused their efforts on the problem of erosion around a picnic area and flooding of the surrounding sidewalks. Redirecting the flow of water involved digging drainage ditches, removing large rocks, unbending crushed culvert pipes, placing a silt fence, lining ditches with rock, reseeding, and spreading erosion control blankets. The most challenging part of the job included tunneling under a sidewalk to place a drainage pipe.

During the course of researching ways to dig ditches, students became aware of the possible negative environmental effects of their well-intended actions. Students contacted Ensafe, an environmentally conscious engineering and consulting firm, for advice. A week later, students were surprised to receive a $250 donation from the firm.  The money provided work gloves for every student, grass seed, straw, silt fencing material, and gas money for students who drove their own vehicles to pick up supplies and donations.

Students met learning objectives of the course by working in groups to solve the problem. Each class had three teams: Service, Support, and Publicity. They researched the problem, gave speeches presenting solutions to the community partner, organized work days and car pools on the class wiki, broadcast public service announcements and organized a party.   Each student also reflected on his/her experience through various media: blogs, essays, video/photo journals, cartoons. One student even published an article in a state conservation magazine.

Rather than asking why communication students are digging ditches, perhaps we should ask, “Why not?”

At first I thought this whole thing was kind of dumb, now I find it kind of rewarding.



“What I learned about Mrs. Pitts is that she is the definition of dedicated. For someone who has a family, career, and personal life, she put countless hours planning, communicating, and following through on all of it. The most impressive thing . . . is her ability to stay positive throughout the whole service learning project.”


“I believe that when a student gets to know there professor, it makes it easier and more comfortable for the student as well as the professor.”


“It’s nice to have a teacher that is willing to do the work they expect others to do.”


“When I first learned of this project I was skeptical.  I wondered why digging holes in the ground was so important to the running and up keeping of a state park.  After getting a firsthand view of the improvements, it was finally clear.  The caliber of the work done was outstanding.  Many hours of thought and planning were put into this project and it definitely showed in its results.  Also, the ability to bring together three different classes and have them work together and be on the same page was also a testimony to the leadership of this project.” 


“I really liked this class because you provided us with a way to learn how to communicate with each other outside of the classroom. It wasn’t the same old boring sit in class experience. We actually learned communication by doing it.”


“In all, this was the best class I have taken thus far. I wish that all my classes were as much fun as this one. Everything I have learned in this class was beneficial to not only my brain but my life. This reflection was also very beneficial because I didn’t realize exactly how much I had learned until I wrote it. Thank you Mrs. Pitts for being such a wonderful teacher. By the end of it I felt I could get up in front of anyone and tell them what I have to say. And thank you for getting us out of the classroom. Your class has changed my life.”


“Five hours of digging ditches and hauling rock? I would have thought such labor would be for just about any other class except Communications, but now I know what service learning is! Service learning is a teaching and learning strategy which incorporates meaningful community service, instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, and teach civic responsibility. It turns out that while service learning can be the “Pitts,” it can also be fun and exciting!”

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