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Empowering Agents of Change: The Service Learning Experience

By: Maurisa Jones
Empowering Agents of Change: The Service Learning Experience
Service Learning empowers students to become agents of change by cultivating ongoing relationships with local community partners and finding mutual value in service-based experiences.

The program has continued to embrace the significance of engaging with the community around us with the added support of a new Sage Center team. 

Tanya Lerch, Assistant Director for Inclusion and Outreach, had her first interactions with Service Learning nearly six years ago when she started advising a project that 3D printed prosthetic hands for those in need -- many times focusing on local kids. When she joined the Sage Center team in the summer of 2021, Lerch had the unique opportunity to take full responsibility for the Service Learning program. After a year of virtual classes and face masks, Lerch welcomed the new and challenging task. 

“It was a perfect time for me to join the Sage Center team because it felt like we were truly all learning together,” Lerch said.

In this new role, Lerch redefined what her interaction with students looked like and embraced the ability to have an impact on an even larger number of students than what she was accustomed to as a math teacher.

There is deep intention woven into the fabric of the Service Learning program. The Sage Center team spent an ample amount of time and care to build upon the success of past years with the goal of making sure students were walking away with lasting impressions. 

One example of this initiative lies in enhancements to the ninth grade program. The Sage Center wanted to maintain the integrity of the program by getting students outside of Sage Hill and into the community and focused on making the focal point thematic and not geographical.

“Instead of saying, ‘OK, we’re going to Anaheim to learn the history of the city,’ we instead are saying, ‘what are some important themes of service in our community,’” Lerch said. “I ended up identifying topics like veterans and mental health, homelessness and indigenous people and land acknowledgment. These topics in our community seemed very important to include, and by having these themes drive the itineraries for each Service Learning experience, the students naturally end up all over Orange County”

The Sage Center crafted Service Learning itineraries for the ninth grade program that allow for students to get their hands dirty and learn by doing. While students are learning about the justice system, they will be watching live cases and even enacting a mock court case. While learning about environmentally sustainable architecture, students will take a walking tour and learn about all of the materials and everything that went into the creation of the space that they physically occupy at Sage Hill School. 

Students' Service Learning experience continues to blossom throughout their four years on campus. As 10th graders, students continue to serve the community by partnering with fourth graders from local elementary schools including El Sol Academy and Scholarship Prep -- they learn from each other as they work through activities that focus on the Six Cs. As upperclassmen, students increasingly have the autonomy to choose how they can be of service to their community by developing their own service learning project or joining one that already exists.

“My hope is that at least one of these experiences strike a chord with every single student so that as they move through the Service Learning program, and they start thinking about their own projects in the years to come, they have something to draw from and say, ‘oh yeah, I was really impacted when we did this, and I want to continue doing this work.”
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