Service Learning Spotlight: Carolyn Tapp

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NOAHH’s Service Learning program connects classroom content to real-world experience. Partnering teachers present students with material relevant to NOAHH’s mission, and NOAHH staff lead students in on-site reflection as they serve. NOAHH currently works with two local schools in this capacity, including the Louise S. McGehee School. In this partnership the McGehee junior class considers housing in the context of government.

Carolyn Tapp, the dynamic educator leading McGehee’s side of this exploration, has been with the school for twenty years. She explained, “I’ve always been interested in housing, but I don’t think I would’ve been motivated to do this if you guys hadn’t approached us. It was a great fit. The questions you’re posing are great for my class because they’re the questions I was thinking about.”

For Thompson, the big-picture question is always this: “How do you live well together with other people in a well-ordered society?” In her classroom this question becomes a jumping-off point: “I see the class as helping students find something that they’re passionate about. I ask them, ‘What’s something you’ve always to learn about?’ I’m trying to give them a sense that they can contribute, or at least get a deeper understanding of that particular public policy issue and the range of opportunities that are there to address it.”

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Housing provides a way into many issues of public policy. By having students all volunteer on the same day, Thompson gains a common, shared experience that she can reference in the classroom. So far students have worked alongside future Habitat homeowners on interior painting, framing, and a number of other tasks. One student described the experience by saying, “I learned about the importance of community when accomplishing a goal. Coming together, we can accomplish so much.”

This is exactly the kind of learning Thompson strives for. “Anything else ‘government’ is endlessly boring in a textbook,” she said. “This is an interesting way of taking some of the textbook stuff and making it real.” From there students are able to explore more deeply where their interest is piqued and, Thompson hopes, gain insight into the kind of citizen they want to be. “We keep coming back to the question of what’s government’s role, what’s the citizen’s role. What’s your responsibility to other people? And I don’t want to answer that question for them. That’s not my job. I want them to be able to answer that question.”

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