EAST: Service-Based Learning

Today’s blog post is from guest contributor Jennifer Skinner of Searcy Living magazine. Everyone that knows me knows how much I love to brag on EAST students and the changes EAST can make in how students see their future and themselves. Do you know what I love even more? When someone else brags on us. – Matt Dozier, EAST Initiative President and CEO

By Jennifer Skinner
Searcy Living, Issue 1 2014

587e8a4a14d688b300065506861533d0It is not often that students in high school become passionate and excited about their homework. You do not frequently see them admit to having life changing experiences from a high school elective course. Furthermore, it is rare that students will give up their free time on summer break to work on school projects that will impact their community.

But that is exactly what students in the EAST Initiative program at Searcy High School are doing when they become inspired through their work on projects for the community. Students get to “follow their passion for positive change. When a student is passionate about a topic, it is personal and they truly want to make a difference,” says Rinda Hall, EAST Facilitator at SHS.

These students are making a difference in the community in big ways by taking on some large projects in Searcy. Some of the projects include developing the Walk Through History trail with Searcy Parks and Recreation, creating a video for the White County Domestic Violence Prevention Organization and working with the Searcy Fire Department to code the GPS locations for fire hydrants around town.

e707c45d936696d6e1f672676348b299Hall explains that “EAST is a service-learning-based course where students learn through hands-on community projects. Students are encouraged to look for problems within their community and actively work to solve them. Our classroom offers the latest in software technology to assist them in their endeavors.”

These high school students are doing impressive work serving our community by developing the Walk Through History trail. Project manager and SHS junior Hunter Ingle explains in his article “the trail provides a means to keep in shape as well as learn about the historical properties of our great town. The Walk Through History Trail stretches from West Arch to Harding University. Famous businesses and properties such as Yarnell’s Ice Cream Company, the Benjamin Clayton Black House, Quattlebaum’s and the Rialto Theater dot the trail. The Searcy Courthouse stands in the center. The distance is about the equivalence of a 5K, or 3.3 miles. The history of each property is on the interactive website that the Searcy EAST program is in the process of making.”

The SHS EAST program has also been working with the Searcy Fire Department for about two years getting real world experience with technical applications. Donald Garringer, a captain at SFD, explained the project helps students learn to put technology to work in the field. The students learn to take a written format and convert it into technical data, creating digital maps in place of paper ones. This is beneficial to the SFD because students are able to do work that would require time and resources of the department. Garringer says they are appreciative of the work the students are doing.


The experiences students are gaining and the skills they are learning in EAST are already becoming life-changing events. Hunter Ingle, who plans to be a lawyer in the future, says, “I have learned to step out of my comfort zone in EAST. I used to be a shy kid who sat in the corner of the room. Now I maintain an active role in the program. EAST has taught me about leadership roles, teamwork, innovation and community service to help my future. I’ve learned about innovation and great people skills in the program. The course is not a regular class with textbooks and tests. Communication skills are needed to get anywhere. These are leadership skills I would never have learned in orthodox classrooms.”

Haley Matheny, also a junior, explains “this course has taught me a lot about deadlines and how projects need to be set up and carried out. The projects I have done have taught me how to better the community with technology. This class has given me a taste of what I will be learning at college and what I will be using in my career. In one year, I learned how to write and direct a film, which is something I hope to be doing for the rest of my life.”

Another eleventh grader in the program, Larry Dicus says, “EAST has taught me how to take the initiative to complete something I’ve started, what I want to get a degree in when I go to college and self-directed learning.”

Hall says there are many useful skills students learn in this course including professionalism and problem-solving but most importantly they learn self-reliance and build teamwork skills that will help them throughout their lives. Hall says, “I tell people that I am the luckiest person in the world to be facilitating this class. I get to witness a more powerful change, a deep-down belief in their own self-confidence and recognition in their ability to go farther and do more than they ever would have guessed before.”

Great things are happening in Searcy and all over EAST country. I want to send a personal note of thanks to Ms. Skinner for helping to share that message.

Until next time,


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