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May 1, 2013 / HandsOnCorps

The Essence of Community School…Nicole Hebert

NHerbert_HOAshevilleIn just three terms of national service, I have served at nearly every level of public education—from middle school success and teen pregnancy prevention, to community college. For my third AmeriCorps term I relocated to Asheville, North Carolina—to serve with Hands On Corps—from Portland, Oregon, where I previously served as an Oregon Campus Compact VISTA. I first began national service in 2010, as a YouthServe AmeriCorps member in California’s forested North Coast region, where I taught teens about healthy relationships and reproductive health. Then in Oregon, I served to engage college students in service and leadership, and coordinated college-wide days of service for the Service-Learning Program at Portland Community College. Now, with Hands On Asheville-Buncombe, I am helping to launch a Community School Pilot Project at Enka Middle School in rural Appalachia.

Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina, Enka is the largest middle school west of Charlotte, with nearly 1100 sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students. Beyond Asheville city limits, Enka is a county school with limited access to city resources, and yet extraordinary access to the natural abundance of the region. Engulfed by the astonishing backdrop of the Appalachian Mountains, Enka is a seat of agriculture—producing tomatoes, strawberries, dairy, and more. By turns, it is one of the most isolated districts in Buncombe County, with a poverty rate nearing seventy percent.

As Student Academic Success VISTA, I work to strengthen partnerships between school and community in order to enhance middle schoolers’ chances of succeeding in school and at life. As part of the Community School model, I strive to develop programming that addresses needs of the whole child, including social, emotional, health, and academic needs. Three terms of AmeriCorps service have equipped me to think deeply about wellness in education and to approach school leadership from a holistic perspective—engaging parents and community members—to enhance student success. In my experience, schools like Enka need this level of engagement to make the greatest impact for all students.

In the mountain winter months, our VISTA team has sowed some hardy seeds for the Community School project at Enka Middle. Our youth service club, Make a Difference, raised $800 in grant funds—from generationOn and the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project—to build a community garden, and address the district’s issues of food insecurity. The Community-School Garden Project combines my own passions for health, wellness, leadership, and service-learning.

To me, service-learning is a methodology for social action—with the potential to mobilize youth to make a lasting impact in their communities. My goal for Make a Difference Club is to empower youth to dream up viable solutions to community priorities. Middle schoolers engaged with Make A Difference Club have already proven to be positive agents of social change. We are all excited to watch the fruits of their labor flourish this spring.

Other Community School Programs at Enka Middle School include an After school Creative Writing Lab and Healthy Cooking on a Budget Class (for parents and families). Every day that I serve as a VISTA, I work to build community and actively promote a holistic approach to education. To me, that is the essence of national service.

Nicole Herbert
AmeriCorps VISTA
Student Success Coordinator
Community School Project at Enka Middle School
HandsOn Asheville-Buncombe


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