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CU Students learn through service

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By Alexa Corcoran - Posted on 24 April 2012

Here at CU Boulder, a course called Public Achievement teaches CU students about education issues and enables them to volunteer once a week at local schools.

Once a week, Public Achievement (PA) students gain a larger understanding of education policies and reform through a lecture, and then apply this knowledge during service learning visits to local schools.

Service learning is a method of teaching, learning and reflecting that combines academic classroom curriculum with meaningful service, frequently youth service, throughout the community.

Throughout the course of a semester, the youth choose a social issue to focus on, design a project to raise awareness for it and execute the project facilitated by PA coaches.

PA involves students from ages 9-18. Despite their age, all participants of Public Achievement show a dedication and maturity when choosing a topic for their project.

Popular topics include teen depression, substance abuse, domestic abuse and animal abuse. Projects can be anything from artistic murals and public service announcements to powerful marches and rallies.

According to McKenna Neises, a CU Public Achievement coach, PA’s emphasis on student agency sets it apart from other service learning programs.

“I think this program teaches them that they do have power and people really do want to hear what they have to say, and that ultimately they can make a difference towards whatever social issue that they choose,” says Neises.

Elaina Verveer teaches the course and has seen countless students impacted by Public Achievement since she launched the program at CU in 1980. In addition to empowerment, Verveer says PA also inspires academic success for the youth it involves.

“Not only have we been able to prove that it strengthens academic performance particularly in reading and writing, but it is also a phenomenal vehicle to provide young people with critical thinking skills,” says Verveer.

Apart from benefiting local youth, PA also impacts the lives of the CU student coaches. Through their service learning, PA coaches learn about important U.S. education policies that affect them and gain important life skills.

Aubrey Brazeel participated in the program as an undergraduate and now supports PA as a teaching assistant as well as through her work with the “I Have a Dream” Foundation. Whether you are interested in working with youth or not, Brazeel says any student can benefit from Public Achievement.

“You really gain a lot of leadership skills and gain an understanding of how the world works and how you're able to get things done in a democratic society,” says Brazeel.

The relationships that form between PA coaches and their youth remain another unique aspect of Public Achievement. Verveer says these relationships have lasting affects on CU Public Achievement coaches even after the course is over.

“Many of my students have changed their majors to education, many are core members for Teach for America, many have gone onto graduate school in similar fields. I really do feel that it provides an opportunity for them to look beyond their current surroundings,” says Verveer.

Despite its success, there are only three Public Achievement programs in Colorado: at CSU, DU and CU Boulder. Already the largest of these three, CU's program is expanding.

Next year, CU's PA coaches will be visiting Pioneer Elementary in addition to Columbine Elementary and Centaurus High School.

As the program grows, Public Achievement continues to revolutionize teaching and learning. By encouraging agency, forging relationships, and teaching life skills, Public Achievement is changing the way students think of education one youth at a time.

Public Achievement is currently recruiting CU students for next year’s fall course. If you’re interested in combining learning with volunteering, email Elaina Verveer at