Lisa, a freshman at Flambeau High School, rarely came to school. But when she did, there was usually trouble - fistfights, swearing at teachers and other students, storming out of class. And there was trouble when she didn't come to school as well: Lisa was picked up by police more than once, and she had run away from home. Not surprisingly, she was failing all of her classes. Her older sisters, each pregnant by 15, had dropped out of school. Lisa appeared to be following their example.
When I met her, several months into the spring semester, Lisa was introducing residents of Rusk County Nursing Home to a cat called Batchi. An elderly man sitting in a wheelchair was saying, "We used to have nine cats. Yup. They multiplied. How old is your cat, Lisa?"
"She's not even a year," Lisa responded.
Since that perilous first fall semester, Lisa had gotten into a student service learning program. Her progress that spring was dramatic. For one thing, she was coming to school - regularly. For another, she was making C's, B's, and even A's in her academic courses. No longer an incessant troublemaker, she now was making positive contributions to the community - not only visiting seniors at the nursing home, but also teaching other students about the responsibilities of owning a pet and writing a series of papers on the topic. One story, about a dog whose life she had saved, was published in a local newspaper. Lisa's self-esteem took a U-turn, and her social skills improved rapidly.
The program that helped Lisa is no silver bullet. For every two steps forward, there's been at least one back. The serious issues in Lisa's life have not wholly dissolved, but her progress is clearly attributable to a specific intervention.
The Community as Classroom
The Flambeau School District in Tony, Wisconsin, has made a serious commitment to what the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation refers to as "community education," or what John Goodlad calls the "educative community." Goodlad says that
the development of the educative community requires mobilization of all present educational institutions and all potentially educative institutions in a common concern for educating all children and youth. In effect, the entire environment must educate, and everyone within this environment must become both educator and learner.(1)
This small district in Wisconsin's poorest county consists of five small rural communities, where unemployment runs high. The district, which serves 710 students, has a …