Lydia DobynsI love this time of year! The festive atmosphere, getting together with friends and family, feeling the excitement in the air – it’s all part of the holidays.It’s also a time to remember those who face challenges in their lives that make it more difficult to experience the joy of the season.Here at New Tech Network (NTN), we celebrate ways students “make a difference”.At Danville New Tech High School, in Danville, Illinois – Director Darin Chambliss told me about his students who are currently participating in the “Adopt-A-Family for the Holiday” homeroom contest. “Students are collecting new gifts for elementary-school aged children and collecting monetary donations in homerooms to help out several area families for the holidays,” explained Chambliss. “This is just one of the holiday activities our students do to get involved.” The Danville students have also bagged groceries at a local store and participated in a community clean-up project.At NTN, making a difference is something students take on throughout the year. Building awareness of needs in their communities and great teachers who design meaningful ways to address those needs as a part of their education is one of the true benefits of project based learning.Take, for example, the students at NTN’s Columbus Signature Academy in Columbus, Indiana. As a way of giving her students lessons in the “practical aspects of electricity,” students in Gail Nowels’ physics class were taught to serve as “apprentice electricians”.“I had always felt the physics side of the course was theoretical,” she explained. “I wanted the students to experience the practical side of electricity.”Teaching the practical side of electricity wasn’t the end of the project for Nowels and her students. She wondered if there was some way of integrating a community outreach component into this exercise. What she found after combining her class of Advanced Placement students with her class of Vocational students – who were studying the construction trades – was an opportunity right in their neighborhood.Nowels contacted Housing Partnership, a not-for-profit agency dedicated to assisting low-income families with housing issues. “When I called Housing Partnership and told them I had a group of students who could wire houses, they were thrilled,” she said. “Enabling the students to actually wire a house and provide a community service to local low-income families was the final piece of the puzzle.”In another project at Columbus Signature Academy (starting with a Physics class), a group of students created prototype windmills (an outgrowth of their classroom studies). “Our students presented a windmill prototype to a local green housing’ development,” said Principal Mike Reed. “They created a windmill prototype that not only had an energy saving component, but also had an aesthetic aspect that would appeal to the housing development’s board. Residents selected one of the windmills presented by the students. The students then partnered with a local engineering firm to actually hook these windmills up to the electrical grid.”There are many ways to get involved – in the life of an individual, in the community, in the world. Developing awareness of needs in our communities and providing meaningful ways for students to take action helps develop active citizenship. At holiday time and throughout the year, students everywhere are making a difference! These students have made their holidays more meaningful while also making the world a better place. And it doesn’t get much better than that!I want to wish you all a very happy holiday season.

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