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The UA difference found in meaningful service learning

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It's one thing for students to sit behind desks and learn about the dire need for quality medical care in a country halfway around the globe.

It's an entirely different experience for students to take the knowledge and skills they are learning in their classes and find a way make quality medical care a reality for a community halfway around the globe.

That difference is the Upper Arlington difference.

As the new superintendent of Upper Arlington schools, I'm often asked what I like best about being here. From the professional perspective, dozens of answers jump to mind immediately -- for example, the opportunity to work with fantastic students, the chance to collaborate with an amazing staff and the honor of carrying on Upper Arlington's long tradition of excellence.

But when I really think about that question, the professional perspective melts away and I have to answer as a father. What I like best about being in Upper Arlington are all the opportunities our schools provide my children.

One of the best examples of this is Upper Arlington's long commitment to truly meaningful service learning. In many school districts, service learning means asking students to collect canned goods and explaining that this helps feed hungry people. Those are good lessons, and certainly valuable to the community.

But in Upper Arlington, our very talented teachers use these projects as a true instructional strategy.

They use service learning to help students experience why each subject area and each of the 21st-century skills are so important to our lives beyond the classroom.

Let's go back to the example about the need for quality medical care halfway around the globe.

If you were to travel all the way to the town of Piol in southern Sudan, you would find a small health clinic with a Golden Bear magnet on the refrigerator that stores life-saving medicines and vaccines.

That's because our students, with the support and guidance of amazing staff members, helped to make that clinic a reality. They put to use what they had learned in their language arts, math and social studies classes and employed 21st-century skills such as collaboration, innovation, self-direction and technology literacy to raise awareness, raise funds, and finally, raise the walls for that clinic in southern Sudan.

Business leaders will tell you that it's difficult to find college graduates with the right combination of knowledge and real-world experiences to allow them to hit the ground running in the work force.

Our students had demonstrated that elusive combination even before receiving their diplomas from Upper Arlington High School.

The southern Sudan project is just one example of our district's deeply embedded commitment to curriculum-connected and meaningful service learning throughout all grade levels.

During the course of the year, we will profile projects from all of our schools on our website, uaschools.org, and on our Facebook page, facebook.com/upperarlingtonschools.

I invite you to follow along and experience the Upper Arlington difference.

Paul Imhoff is superintendent of Upper Arlington schools.

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