“Simply allowing students to speak up would improve the quality of education as it would allow them to be more interested in what they are learning and leads to better teaching.” – Alex Wirth, USA
At some point here on Daily Edventures, you may have heard me say, “The world can’t wait for students to graduate in order to make a difference.” When you meet Alex Wirth, it’s perfectly clear why I believe this to be the case. Wirth, who is currently a student at Harvard University, is an advocate for youth involvement in government, community service, and especially service learning. He is a fellow at the Forum for Youth Investment where he has been working on a project to create a Presidential Youth Council. He was appointed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, where he serves as the youngest member and chairs the youth working group – a first-of-its-kind initiative at the U.S. State Department. He is a blogger for the Huffington Post, and a member of the State Farm Youth Advisory Board, the board of directors of Youth Service America and the National Youth Association. To say he is making a difference is an understatement.
Wirth is especially passionate about the power of service learning to make school relevant and purposeful, which in turn will increase graduation rates in high school and college. “Only about 72 percent of students are graduating from high school and 39 percent are graduating from college,” notes Wirth. “And what’s really interesting is that when you look at the data the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation put together about why that’s happening, 47 percent of the dropouts said that school was simply just not interesting enough, and 81 percent said they would appreciate if there was more ‘real-world’ learning in the classroom. This is exactly what service learning aims to do.”
According to Wirth, service learning combines community service and activities that improve an entire community, and brings them into the classroom on a daily basis. This real-life learning is also a key part of 21st century skills, encouraging creativity, critical thinking and collaboration. “When you give students a problem and say, ‘ you need to use technology to conquer it,’ it suddenly becomes infinitely more interesting,” he adds.
Here, we discuss how service learning can be implemented in the classroom, and why
Wirth believes it is one of the best ways to get students excited about and in control of their own education. Enjoy!
Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?
I have worked to raise awareness about the impact of service learning in engaging students in the material they are learning. Service learning increases academic achievement while allowing students to make a difference in their communities, thus creating better citizens. I do this through writing about youth and education issues in the Huffington Post, tweeting about events, lobbying for service learning within the Department of Education and on Capitol Hill, giving speeches about the power of service learning, and philanthropy through the State Farm Youth Advisory Board in support of service learning.
What has changed as a result of your efforts?
I have helped to push the field to embrace more of an academic definition that focuses on the power service learning has to improve academic outcomes in schools. In addition, through the State Farm Youth Advisory Board, we have funded over 100 projects over the last two years in cities all across the United States and empowered thousands of young people to spread the message about the power of service learning.
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
At the end of the day it all lies in the messaging, and it is possible to tweak messages and describe one’s work through a different view point that makes it more attractive for
others to sign onto.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
I love social media and am an active Twitter user. That has allowed me to gain a following who think that this type of work, and empowering young people both inside and outside the classroom, is important. I also blog and constantly use the computer for e-mail. I also use Skype for connecting with people all across the country to advance common goals around education and youth empowerment.
What is your country doing well currently to support education?
We are starting to listen more and more to the concerns of students and realizing the need to put them in the driver’s seat with project-based learning.
What conditions must change in your country to better support education?
We must stop teaching to the test and start teaching the three C’s – creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
Connecting it with the real world.
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
Just as I wrote above, connect it to the real world and show students the relevance in what they are learning. This is what service learning does, and it will improve both your community and the academic achievement of your classroom. If you are looking for help, look at Youth Service America’s Semester of Service Program, which has both professional development materials and funding.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
A voice – simply allowing students to speak up would improve the quality of education as it would allow students to be in the driver’s seat which makes them more interested in what they are learning and leads to better teaching.
There is a fantastic article in the Atlantic talking about why kids should grade teachers.
- Birthplace: Santa Fe, New Mexico
- Current residence: Cambridge, Massachusetts
- Education: Harvard University
- Website I check every day: Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire
- Person who inspires me most: Kathy Havens-Payne
- Favorite childhood memory: Opening up a social studies textbook for the first time
- Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Washington D.C.
- When was the last time you laughed? Why? Watching the Barack Obama Big Bird TV Ad with friends at the Harvard Institute of Politics
- Favorite book: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
- Favorite music: Coldplay
- Your favorite quote or motto: “Each time a man stands for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.” –Robert F. Kennedy