2,125 “Points of Light” in Virginia

By: Andrew Campanella

 

 

 

When I was growing up, President George H. W. Bush had a beautiful phrase to describe volunteers. He called them “a thousand points of light.”

 

The phrase evokes images of good-hearted Americans doing their part to light our national path towards a brighter and better future.

When I learned of the unique service projects performed by students at the Virginia Virtual Academy (VAVA), I immediately thought of these students as “a thousand points of light” – 2,125 points of light to be exact.

At VAVA, each of the school’s 2,125 students designs her or his own volunteer projects. Some students develop programs to write letters of gratitude to firefighters in their communities. Other students bake cookies for police officers.  Some visit nursing homes and provide cheer to elderly residents. The result is that VAVA students in every corner of the 47,000-square-mile state are making a positive impact in their communities, and spreading happiness in the process.

“The students select somewhere, something in their communities where they see a need,” explained Suzanne Sloan, the head of school for Virginia Virtual Academy, which is powered by K12, Inc.

Over the years, these projects have grown and expanded. For example, when one student developed a food bank program – creating gift bags with toiletry items and useful gifts to distribute in addition to food to hungry residents – other students were inspired to replicate the program in their communities.

“The food bank project came out of one particular student who felt like, on Thanksgiving, there was so much food left over,” Sloan said. “Then a lot of other students started to jump in and say, ‘We could do that here.’”

Now, dozens of state food banks benefit from the VAVA gift bag program.

Other students took that project and expanded it even more. They extended the time-honored fall tradition of apple picking and applied it to their service work – donating the apples to food banks in their communities.

In addition to providing support for fellow Virginia residents, VAVA students are learning about each other and about their state – discovering that the needs and challenges faced by families in southeastern Lee County, for example, may be different than the needs of a family in Arlington, which borders Washington, DC.

“That’s a big part of it – appreciating that people are different, just the diversity in our own state… there are 133 school divisions in Virginia and we have at least one student in each of 129 different school divisions,” Sloan said.

Families frequently travel to participate in other students’ service projects, and they use online tools to share photos, videos, and stories about their projects. The projects strengthen student friendships and help develop a renewed love of learning.

Although these service projects have been a cornerstone of VAVA’s work for several years, they recently decided on a specific time of the year to launch and expand their projects. Beginning in 2018, VAVA uses National School Choice Week as a time to showcase the work of their students with official Community Service Days.

For 2019, these students plan to wear their National School Choice Week scarves and present their projects via a giant videoconference.

We cannot wait to help celebrate the incredible work that VAVA students are doing. Indeed, they are a thousand points of light, and they are brightening the path for a more optimistic future for us all.

Read more: 5 Questions for Virginia Virtual Academy’s Head of School, Suzanne Sloan

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