There are lessons to be had in bottle drives, river cleanups and art exhibits, among other activities.
In North Adams Public Schools, Anne French is the person to help teachers and students find those teachable moments through hands-on community service-learning activities.
Earlier this month, French, who is based at Drury High School, received the Outstanding Service-Learning Practitioner Award from the Massachusetts Service Alliance. She was nominated by Aldonna Girouard, Drury's fine and performing arts team leader.
The MSA presented this and five other awards on June 6 at the Massachusetts Conference on Service and Volunteering at the Best Western Royal Plaza Hotel & Trade Center in Marlborough
"The spirit of the volunteer, the people who give their time in the true service for others, are at the heart of our local areas," said state Sen. Dan Wolf, D-Harwich, who was a speaker at the event.
According to Emily Haber, CEO of the Massachusetts Service Alliance, more than 1.38 million people in Massachusetts volunteered 137.5 million hours of service last year.
Locally, French has been coordinating service-learning efforts at Drury for more than 20 years and "became a champion for this teaching and learning strategy that engages young people in identifying and implementing solutions to community needs and problems," said Kristen McKinnon, who presented the award to French.
McKinnon is the secretary for the MSA board of directors and is also the service-learning coordinator at the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
According to North Adams Public Schools data, 89 percent of the district's students and 77 teachers were engaged in a collective 103 service-learning projects during the 2011-12 school year. The district offers a mini-grant program to help teachers plan and purchase materials or provide transportation for projects.
French describes community service-learning as something more than the act of volunteering. "It's intentionally integrated into the curriculum as a way for teachers to teach curriculum," she said.
Students throughout the district have participated in "The Mill Children" exhibit, which was developed by Brill Gallery North Adams and is currently traveling across the country.
Students studied the work of Lewis Wickes Hine, who visited the Eclipse Mill in North Adams to document child workers on behalf of the National Child Labor Committee in 1911.
Since then students have worked on their own art projects and writing based on their research of child labor in those times. Drury High School's chorus studied mill songs and have sung them at gallery shows. Teachers also produced a curriculum guide based on the content of the exhibit.
Other examples of service-learning project in the district include: researching local history and presenting ideas to improve the local economy at North Adams City Council meetings; studying biology and horticulture while cultivating a school garden and sharing harvests with local food pantries; putting on an annual prom for senior citizens and learning about the lives and times of their guests.
"The main idea is for the teacher to be the facilitator and let the students themselves address the problems in the community they are trying to solve," French said. "It's up to students to figure what the service outcome will be."
On the Web ...
To learn more about The Mill Children service-learning project: http://millchildrenprojects.