As a Calvin student, I worked at the Service-Learning Center during my sophomore and junior years (2001-2003), coordinating service-learning placements for education students in local schools. The job was fantastic--it was "real" and complex--giving me opportunities to meet the needs of both education students and classrooms around the city of Grand Rapids. I was able to visit many of the schools and agencies where Calvin students were placed, giving me a unique picture of the disparities that exist among schools and putting me into contact with many dedicated teachers and administrators. These folks were willing to put forth the extra effort to include Calvin students in their organizations; I think they recognized the mutual benefit that is offered through service-learning.
Though my job at the SL-C ended, service-learning continued (and continues) to intersect with my life. From 2006-2008, my wife and I were mentors in the Harambee House, a Calvin College Project Neighborhood house partnered with First Christian Reformed Church. Each member of the community engaged in our Grand Rapids neighborhood through service-learning on a weekly basis. Having worked at the SL-C, I was keenly aware of how important it was to recognize the relationships that we formed with our neighbors as mutual-we had to fight our tendencies to be the givers, the helpers, the doers.
I currently teach in a special education classroom at Creston High School in the Grand Rapids Public Schools, and the partnership with the SL-C has continued in various ways. I've enjoyed hosting a Streetfest group at our school, and have had a variety of service-learners in my classroom: tutors from the Education Dept. at Calvin, nursing students presenting health information in my classroom from the Nursing Dept., and students from the local Project Neigborhood House on Travis Street have also been involved in our school and in my classroom. I am so thankful for these partnerships; I know that Calvin students learn much from being in an urban high school setting, but that isn't really my primary concern any longer. I'm simply thankful for what they bring to my classroom and how they enrich the lives of my students when they are in my classroom.