Why ‘We’ works in Minnesota in 2013

“We” leaders from Canada picked Minnesota for today’s We Day gathering for good reason: deep history and widespread current state support for youth service and service-learning. Minnesota was out front.

In 1989 Gov. Rudy Perpich encouraged state nonprofits and educators to build the service/service-learning movement statewide, nationally and globally.

Perpich pushed the Minnesota Legislature to support service with an annual appropriation of $1 million per year for K-12 schools and $150,000 for higher education. The K-12 amount has been sustained to date. Perpich chaired the first National Service-Learning Conference, convened annually since 1989 by Minnesota-based National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC).

Then-Sen. Dave Durenberger, R-Minn., became the Senate champion for service-learning in schools within the National and Community Service Act of 1993. With his legislation came an annual federal appropriation of $300,000 – 500,000 to Minnesota up to 2011. Sen. Paul Wellstone, Rep. Betty McCollum and Sen. Al Franken were also leaders.

A major ingredient in Minnesota’s leadership are teachers who embrace service-learning as engaged learning involving students in problem solving and critical thinking. Students in Henderson monitored local ponds, discovering deformed frogs affected by farm chemicals that led to legislative hearings. School districts like Mounds View offer district-wide applications for service-learning at every grade. In Minneapolis and St. Paul youth service activities are blended into Community Education opportunities after the traditional school day.

As renowned Irish Poet William Butler Yeats observed, “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of fire.” The fire young people feel for engaged learning with a service dimension is evident in the success of We Day. There is a good bed of coals to build on, but great care is still needed to keep the fire burning.

Jim Kielsmeier is the founder of the National Youth Leadership Council.

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