CSU Servant Leadership Project Benefits Local School

COLUMBUS, Ga. - A CSU student initiative is impacting a local elementary school.

Eight CSU Servant Leadership scholars recently installed an outdoor classroom in the courtyard of Wesley Heights Elementary School in Columbus.

Supported by a $4,065 Lowe’s Toolbox for Education grant and local landscaper Ken Ellison, the students landscaped an area surrounding an arrangement of picnic tables.

Ellison, whose daughter, Karan Anne, graduated in 2006 from CSU and the Servant Leadership Program, donated his time to draw up the plans for the installation, which took place April 19-20 and includes four large planter boxes for the students to grow vegetation as part of their science classes.

Lowe’s of Columbus also has worked with the students to defer some costs so that they could maximize their grant dollars.

“We are grateful to both Ken and Lowes for their time and effort in helping make this a wonderful project,” said CSU Servant Leadership Program Director Stuart Rayfield.

While Ellison has advised on the installation, Rayfield and Pastoral Institute Servant Leadership Center Director Fran Mangoni have guided the students throughout a yearlong Servant Leadership senior project at Wesley Heights.

The outdoor classroom represents the second of the three-phase initiative. Last month, the CSU students decorated the hallways with painted paw prints and completed a gymnasium wall mural.

The mural is based on a road paved in gold bricks with words referencing the concept of “character education” — a national movement encouraging schools to create environments that foster ethical, responsible, and caring young people. Images along the road depicted in the mural include a child reading and another recycling, and words in large letters spell out “Wesley Heights … Where High Expectations Soar.”

“Just knowing that the students come to school one week with bare walls and the next week find a fantastic mural on their gym walls and paw prints on the hallway walls is exciting,” said CSU senior biology major and Servant Leadership scholar Melissa Redwood.

Wesley Heights Principal Donna Kemp said the excitement has been mutual as her students have watched “with great anticipation” as the projects have unfolded. “The idea that someone else, whom they do not know, would do this for them ... is so exciting.”

As part of the painting project, the CSU students, who will first meet their Wesley Heights counterparts near the end of the school year, left clues of their identities under a “Secret Bulldog” code. “The students and staff can’t wait to meet their ‘Secret Bulldogs.’” Kemp said.

For the third phase of the CSU Servant Leadership project, funds left over from the Lowe’s grant, plus money remaining from the mural project ($1,500 raised through a paw-print sponsorship fund drive on campus and around the community), will be used to purchase reading materials for the school’s media center to bolster the accelerated and leveled reading programs.

Kemp said Servant Leadership project has provided “a wonderful model” for her school. “The CSU students have put in so many hours to create this project for our students, and our school is the real benefactor of their tireless efforts.”

She also said servant leadership has become “one focus of instruction” this year at Wesley Heights through recent activities including a food drive for local food pantries and the Salvation Army, collecting tabs for the Ronald McDonald House, organizing book bag packets for foster children, collecting “Pennies for Patients” and participating in the March of Dimes’ Walk for Babies.

The senior project is the capstone experience in the Servant Leadership Program, as the students put into practice everything they have learned through the program over three and a half years.

This year’s group initiated the process during the previous spring semester. “They brainstormed and determine a subject area to pursue — in this case, outreach for a Title I (at-risk) elementary school,” said Rayfield.

Redwood said she and her Servant Leadership classmates have targeted Wesley Heights students to develop a greater sense of pride in their school. “It is this pride that I hope will be part of their work ethic and positive attitudes as they continue their education.”

Subsequently, Redwood and her colleagues have worked closely — including writing the Lowe’s grant proposal — with Wesley Heights Principal Donna Kemp on the initiative, Lowe’s, in addition to awarding the grant, has worked with the students to defer some costs so that they could maximize their grant dollars.

Servant Leadership at CSU is a comprehensive program committed to developing future leaders who practice the servant leadership philosophy. Participants develop leadership skills through leadership classes, hands-on modeling of leadership practices, participation in community service projects and more.

Scholars are competitively selected and awarded a $1,250 stipend each semester. Seven of the eight senior-class scholarships this year are funded by the Ken Spano Foundation.

Last year’s senior project addressed local hunger and homelessness, culminating in a demonstration “hunger banquet” on the CSU campus and student-produced video documentary on homelessness in Columbus, which is being used for educational purposes by local civic groups.

For more information, contact Stuart Rayfield at 706-565-3655 or go to http://www.colstate.edu/servant.