Service-Learning Focus: Educating and Empowering DC’s Youth

The first installment of the Spring 2014 Semester Brown Bag Lunch (BBL) Series featured two D.C. non-profit organizations who are going the extra mile to serve, educate, and empower underrepresented  youth. The purpose of the BBL Series is to highlight community partners who can serve as resources to students, faculty, and staff members who are interested in their topic of expertise. Attendees of the first BBL included people who have previously volunteered for Reading Partners (one of the organizations that presented), students who work with JumpStart or similar organizations, and those who simply wanted to hear more about service organizations that they didn’t know much about.

Life Pieces to Masterpieces (LPTM) is one such community organization whose main goal is to transform the lives of young men from some of the most challenging communities in D.C. Working with educators, social workers, and child advocates from 12 different schools in the D.C. area, LPTM staff identify boys to enroll into the program on a consistent basis. With the desire to help these young men find the courage to go onto college, increase their confidence, and provide these individuals with the recourses needed to access the larger world, LPTM Mentors and Volunteers utilize art as a processing mechanism to assist others in discovering their own unique voices. By creating and invoking an environment for youth to better understand their power, and teaching that despite the fact that one cannot control their situation, one can control their thoughts, words, and actions, LPTM has had tremendous success. With a current 100% graduation rate, LPTM’s intentional environment, mission-driven focus, and well-trained Mentors and Volunteers are consistently reinforcing LPTM values and in turn impacting a great number of DC youth.

Like LPTM, Reading Partners is another D.C. non-profit organization whose goal is to combat the striking discrepancies amongst the literacy rates of children enrolled in Title 1 schools in the District. Collaborating with school guidance counselors, social workers, and teachers, Reading Partners aims to find and enroll students who are six months to two years off the reading track into their literacy program. With the knowledge that only 13% of low income fourth graders are reading at grade-level and students are four times more likely to drop out of high school if they are behind in reading in third grade, Reading Partners uses a structured curriculum that is based on the students’ identified literacy needs and learning strategies to combat these statistics. Pairing students up one-on-one with a literacy tutor, Reading Partners in this past year alone had 99% of its students increase their rate of learning and the organization as whole note that students on-average learn and retain three times as much information in comparison to other students in a typical school day. While challenges such as student behavior and increased enrollment size are becoming progressively more apparent, Reading Partners has continued to help students become strong, confident readers with a passion for learning.

The result of the representatives’ presentations was positive and engaging; almost all attendees had at least one question or comment for the speakers, some statistical and some personal. The speakers were all clearly knowledgeable passionate about the paths of public service that they had chosen, and they upheld The Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service’s mission to help connect students to opportunities to serve and to promote active citizenship in our diverse democracy. From the approaches utilized by Life Pieces to Masterpieces and Reading Partners to assist students in finding their own confidence and voice, we – GW faculty, students, and affiliated community members – can all learn from these organizations in order to continue to have a greater role on impacting the lives of today’s youth.