“Believe there is good in the world.”

That is the motto of Yale Education Association as teachers in this small district in St. Clair County seek to fulfill Gandhi’s dream and “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Their goal: raise $50,000 to build a home for a family in need in their community. Yale teachers have recruited students and community members in their mission and are partnering with the Blue Water Habitat for Humanity to achieve their goal.

The Heartlands Institute of Technology is a career tech center run by the Ionia Intermediate School District.

Students not only get hands-on experience in a number of fields, but are able to give back to the community as well; in the Dental Occupations program they use that experience to help provide free dental care to patients who lack insurance. Teachers set up the program, recruit dentists to provide free services and teach students the necessary skills to assist with the procedures.

These are just a few examples of school employees across the state going above and beyond to improve the learning experiences of their students, the communities they live and work in and, along the way, teach lessons that can’t be taught with a textbook or a computer. These efforts won’t show up on student standardized test scores or teacher evaluation forms, but they are essential lessons nonetheless.

I spend a great deal of time traveling across the state talking to teachers and support staff. While they are more than willing to share their ideas about how to improve public schools in Michigan, they also are eager to tell me about the community service efforts their members are engaged in.

You would be hard pressed to find a school district across the state where school employees are not involved in charitable activities, often recruiting their students to help with the cause. I’ve learned of teachers and support staff sponsoring “giving trees,” canned food drives, coats and mitten drives, Relay for Life cancer fundraisers — and that’s just in Utica Community Schools. Similar activities can be found throughout public schools from Monroe to Iron Mountain.

School employees are acutely aware of the needs of their students and of the broader community. They see the unmet needs in the eyes of the children who walk through the doors of their buildings every day.

Men and women who embark upon careers in public education are giving by nature — that is what led them into the profession. They seek creative opportunities to give back to their communities while creating teachable moments for their students to learn valuable lessons that they will pass on to future generations.

While their charitable work helps students, parents and those in need, school employees understand it also helps them succeed as well. The job of educating a student is made more difficult when their students suffer from all the problems we see in our communities.

Children who lack proper housing, nutrition and clothing often have more difficulty in the classroom. Teachers and school support staff who engage their students in giving back see the effect not only in those who receive help, but in the students who contribute their time to help those in need.

All the wonderful acts of kindness and giving that school employees engage in across the state give new meaning to the term “community” schools. The work that teachers, bus drivers, secretaries, custodians, paraprofessionals and food service employees do inside public school buildings is strengthened by the work they do in their communities. And that work proves that the motto of the Yale teachers is well founded: “Believe there is good in the world.”

Steven Cook is president of the Michigan Education Association.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Karla Swift and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.

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