Kristen Hitchcox on the impact of education policy
"For my service learning component, I volunteered in a classroom at South High School. It was a freshmen English class. The kids were incredible. Many of them had already been through so much in their lives, and a few were still in gangs. They had humor and intelligence and passion, though not always for school.
"In terms of the connection to political science, I saw the ramifications of spending cuts on education. Something as small as cutting the budget for making copies can affect what happens in the classroom in a big way. Instead of getting handouts with the vocab words on them, or worksheets, the kids copied from the board. While writing things down yourself does help memorization, many of the kids just didn't write anything down at all. They listened to their iPods or played on their phones under the desk. One teacher is not enough to supervise each student on an individual level.
"These kids taught me a lot about the different ways people are brought up and the adult responsibilities that they had to undertake. Service learning is a good idea for many reasons, because it helps you to get outside of yourself and help someone to learn a skill or understand something.
"One of the boys in there was precocious and intelligent, if a little unmotivated in school. I asked him what he was going to do after high school, and he replied that he was going to join the Army. I asked if he had considered college, and he said that he was too scared to go to college. I frowned and reminded him that if he joined the Army, he would probably get shot at, and that was much less likely in college. And he said that he would rather die than fail, and that if he went to college, he would fail.
"That devastated me. Our policies have failed thus far if children feel that way. I know that everyone who volunteered had some intense experiences, and service learning is a good idea because it can change the way you view the world, broadening horizons and giving you new perspectives.
"Our children are the future and it is a mistake to let them feel hopeless about their education. Not everyone needs to go to college, but everyone should feel like they can. I used to believe that large-scale change could only be brought about by politicians and policies, but it has to start somewhere. Service learning is a good way to inspire people to act for change and a good way to see how policies are working on an intimate, personal level."