by Laura Robbins

Most schools are involved in community service and fundraising – but Lutheran Education is seeking a different approach to service, whereby we engage in service learning. It’s not just a one-off activity here and there; it’s learning about social justice issues, in a way that engages Head (learning), Heart (advocacy), and Hands (action). It’s about growing reciprocal partnerships, and meeting genuine needs.

Here at Lutheran Ormeau Rivers District School (LORDS) our students learn about the deeper issues and the causes of injustice and disadvantage. For instance, in our ongoing partnership with St Vinnies (as we have our students learn about homelessness), students are asked to consider how people might become homeless and why it’s so hard to get out of that situation. At LORDS we are seeing that these connections and deep learning, which our service-learning approach fosters, are resonating in the community. People are saying, ‘It’s great that your approach isn’t just about raising $1000 to give to people who are homeless, but you’re educating young people to make a difference’.

Social isolation
In 2015, as the Year 11 Christian Studies (CS) teacher I had the opportunity to develop a social justice unit of work. We decided to set up a partnership with a local aged-care home, based on an idea our principal Jodie Hoff came up with. She encouraged me to develop the partnership and unit of work in order for our students to have a deeper understanding about the social isolation of many people in aged care. I developed the unit of work to be a combination of ‘traditional’ CS classroom lessons and a ‘buddy’ program with the aged-care home, involving frequent visits to our aged-care buddies.

Over time students began to see for themselves that many nursing homes are full of people who are just left there. They don’t all come from loving families, who visit Nan and Pop every weekend. This raised some hard questions for the students and was an ongoing discussion topic in the reflective conversations we had after every buddy visit.

The students really valued having an aged-care buddy. The time they spent with their buddy could involve taking them for a walk in the garden, playing bingo with them, or colouring in with them. Students also valued sitting and listening and learning from their buddy. They came to learn that everyone has a story, and that this story is to be respected and valued.

For Year 9, we’ve come up with a program called Stepping Up and Stepping Out, which is like a rite of passage. As part of this program the Year 9s participate in a ‘street retreat’ in Brisbane CBD, where they learn firsthand about homelessness and
its causes.

Laura Robbins is Pastoral Care Coordinator for Years 7 to 12 at Lutheran Ormeau Rivers District School (LORDS), south of Brisbane, Queensland.

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