by NATHANIEL NELSON
Since 1990, the community service learning (CSL) class has given students the opportunity to work with local communities in need and is a favorite among many Winona Senior High School students. However, due to understaffing, the second semester was cut this year. After teachers and students appealed to the board to re-add the class for the second semester, the board voted to ask administrators to examine cost neutral ways to staff the course. Board member Steve Schild said there was not a way to add the course without spending money the district doesn’t have, and called his vote against it the hardest decision he has made on the board — harder than closing schools.
The CSL class, which is currently taught by Sarah Dixen in the social studies department, is currently offered as a senior-level elective for students to gain experience in the volunteer field. “Students find a place within the community where they are able to serve some group in the public, usually younger people, older people or people with disabilities,” Dixen explained. The students spend one week in a classroom setting before finding a site at which to volunteer five days a week. They volunteer at elementary schools, preschools, nursing homes and with individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s and other disabilities. “They are also learning a lot about different parts of the community that they would otherwise not know much about,” Dixen added.
At the end of the semester, students are instructed to plan and implement a service project for the community, which can be anything from a car wash, to a food drive, to a dodgeball game fundraiser.
Dwayne Voegeli, who has taught the class in the past, explained that the CSL course can change students’ lives. “Not every student has that impact, but for some students, it changes how they see the world,” he said. “I’ve had students cry on the last day. To get a chance to connect with people outside of yourself, especially across generations, it’s a special kind of learning.”
In the past, the class has been offered in both spring and fall semesters, at one time having five sections in a year. This year, 52 students asked to take the course, but due to understaffing and required classes taking precedent, only seven students were scheduled to have the course in the spring, below the required number of 22.
So the second semester was cut.
At the WAPS Board meeting last Thursday, Voegeli and other social studies teachers approached the board about finding a way to keep the spring course intact and allow more students to have it on their schedule. Voegeli said the timing could not be worse, with the district going through financial turmoil, but he had to try. “It’d be different if it was any other class, but this is a distinctly different and special kind of class because of the impact it has on students and the community,” Voegeli said.
Board Member Allison Quam disagreed on the timing aspect, arguing that “this is the exact time to be talking about curriculum. We’re always going to be in a tough budget situation. That’s just how public education is.” She said that the class was the exact type of class that the high schoolers should have, and made a motion for administrators to bring a proposal to the board on how to bring back the spring course.
Schild said that while the board is important, he wouldn’t want administrators to spend time on something that couldn’t be done. “I’m not going to vote for the administration to do something impossible. This is the hardest vote I will have ever taken, harder than closing schools,” he said.
Schild then added an amendment to Quam’s motion, directing administrators to only look for revenue-neutral plans, which board member Jeanne Nelson seconded.
Voegeli spoke up at the meeting, telling the board that the previous motion would have allowed the board to examine the actual cost of running the course. “The motion was to ask for what the actual cost was or what it would be. And then they could choose whether to vote up or down,” he later said. “Why would the board not want to have complete or accurate information? If I’m later asked to find other ways to pay for it, I don’t even know what money I need to raise for the class.”
When the amended motion came to the table, Schild was the only member to vote no.
According to Voegeli, the removal of the spring section does not necessarily mean that the class won’t have a spring course in the future, but he doesn’t know for sure.