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Interview with Nan Peterson

Ms. Nan Peterson is the Director of Service Learning for The Blake School located in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  She is also the first and only Senior Fellow of the Shinnyo-en Foundation.

Nan was nominated for the National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC) Service-Learning Practitioner Leadership Award by Scott Flemming, as Director of The Blake School’s Office of Equity and Community Engagement.  This award recognizes practitioners who have equipped young people to lead and serve, both through their direct service learning instruction with youth and by nurturing other practitioners to expand their service learning skills and knowledge.  Each year, this award is presented to a teacher or community member who has created a living legacy through service learning practice.  The 2012 Service-Learning Practitioner Leadership Award will be presented at the National Service Learning Conference (NSLC) in Minneapolis, Minnesota, April 11-14, 2012.

Nan, could you please tell us when and how you became interested in service learning experiences?

My family always believed in service by giving back and through their actions as role models, this value became ingrained in me very early in my life.  My mother’s passion for service was Catholic charities and she did a lot of volunteer work to help those less fortunate.  My father was an oral surgeon and shared his passion for service by providing a lot of free dentistry.  I have always loved incorporating whatever is going on in the local and global world in school.

How did you feel when you learned that you were the winner of the Service-Learning Practitioner Leadership Award?

When Kalita Bak, CEO of National Youth Leadership Council, called to congratulate me about being the winner of the Service-Learning Practitioner Leadership Award, I thought they must have called the wrong person.  I accepted the Service-Learning Practitioner Leadership Award with great surprise and honor on behalf of The Blake School and the Shinnyo-en Foundation.  It is with humility, surprise and excitement that I am recognized as someone who encourages service learning at The Blake School and beyond.  National Youth Leadership Council is “the” national service learning organization that leads best practices and service learning teaching and learning and I am so grateful to be recognized by them to receive the Service-Learning Practitioner Leadership Award.

Scott Flemming nominated you for the award but did Scott tell you what specific experience or accomplishment of yours stood out to him that caused him to nominate you?

Scott shared with me that he felt it was very obvious how important social justice is to me and how hard I continually work toward social justice.  He mentioned that he appreciates how well I connect with everyone; treating all with respect and compassion.

Receiving this award reflects good and important service work done by The Blake School and beyond.  I am hopeful that this recognition will help all of us think beyond ourselves and consider working toward peace through service.

How does your leadership as the Director of Service Learning intersect with or is part of The Blake School’s Office of Equity and Community Engagement?

Service learning continues to grow at The Blake School and nationally as a method of teaching and learning.  In addition, The Blake School Service Learning is part of the Office of Equity and Community Engagement (OECE).  Pluralism, International Threats, Learning Works, Cornerstone and the Gay-Straight Alliance are all part of this department that work together synergistically creating more effective outcomes for social justice.

Students are the hope for the world.  Service learning experiences encourage students to give of their best selves and to think about the world’s concerns and possibilities.  Service is a path to peace. My hope is that this award will encourage all of us to grow into compassion of service.

As the recipient of the 2012 Service-Learning Practitioner Leadership Award, how might your contribution at the next NSLC be?

I will be the primary presenter for our workshop “Equity and Community Engagement through the Heart of Service (scheduled at 9 AM to 10:30 AM on Friday, April 13)”; work in the book store; received and accepted the honor of being invited to be a panelist of the “Thought Leaders Panel (scheduled at 9 AM to 10:30 AM on Thursday, April 12)” at the National Service-Learning Conference that will focus on spirituality and service.  I will also offer a gathering that will be a place for practitioners to network.

Now could you share with us your thoughts and experiences in Six Billion Paths to Peace? In your view, what is the core of the Six Billion Paths to Peace Initiative?

I feel that the core of Shinnyo-en Foundation’s Six Billion Paths to Peace Initiative is the interconnectedness it brings.  The idea that your actions affect me and my actions affect others in my life is very exhilarating!  The Six Billion Paths to Peace Initiative encourages us to recognize and embrace our differences, understanding that we are all part of the whole of the human race.  The Six Billion Paths to Peace Initiative helps us think about our individual contributions and how we, individually, can use our time, talent and treasures to make a positive difference.  The Six Billion Paths to Peace Initiative focuses on harmony, peace and joy through service.  That is the way we “up shift” as we look at the concerns and needs of the world.

How did the students and faculty of The Blake School react to your attempt to incorporate the Six Billion Paths to Peace Initiative into the culture and the curriculum of The Blake School when you first introduced it to them?

The Six Billion Paths to Peace Initiative was easily and quickly welcomed into the core values of The Blake School.  It was an easy connector for service learning because we think about Mother Teresa and her words “Any act of service is an act of peace.”  It was easy to connect service and peace thinking about that mantra.  The Blake Lower School views the Six Billion Paths to Peace Initiative as friendship; they relate to the ideas of peace through service.  The Blake Middle School focuses on local concerns and The Blake Upper School focuses on global concerns.  The Six Billion Paths to Peace Initiative encourages us to think about how to connect with one another, and about interconnectedness, that encourages us to think about goals, dreams, and hopes.  The Six Billion Paths to Peace Initiative causes us to look individually at, “Who am I, and who do I want to be?”

In what way(s) has the Six Billion Paths to Peace Initiative transformed you and The Blake School, if any?

The Six Billion Paths to Peace Initiative has been very transformative in many ways.  It has helped us change our perspective from only thinking about ourselves to consider multiple perspectives.  It has helped us to be more aware of concerns, hopes, ideas and needs of others.  It has caused us to think, “How can I best use my time, talent and treasures for the common good?”  It leaves us with the question, “This day, this week, this month what is my path to peace?”

What do you think the students enjoy most about the Six Billion Paths to Peace Initiative?

I feel that the students enjoy the fact that the Six Billion Paths to Peace helps them relate to one another, think about their own personal identity while learning about one another in a new way and enlarge their idea of what service is.  It helps students to connect to one another and to connect to the concerns of the global community.  The students enjoy the fact that the Six Billion Paths to Peace Initiative encourages them to think as global citizens.

Could you please share with us some examples or instances when students have done wonderful things through the Six Billion Paths to Peace Initiative?

A recent wonderful event called “Empty Bowls” service event was created by the students at The Blake School.  The Blake Upper School students were studying global hunger and were involved in many projects to meet the needs of global hunger.  The Blake Upper School students shared with Lower and Middle School students about their concern about global hunger and that they planned to have a service event called “Empty Bowls” where they would earn money to help feed the hungry in Africa.  When this was shared with the Lower and Middle School students, some of the Lower and Middle School students mentioned that there are also many hungry people right here.  The students wanted to be involved.  The Middle School students said that they could make bread and soup and the Lower School students said they could make the bowls.  It was a wonderful “Kid Generated” event.  The students created the event; all of the students worked collaboratively and were in charge of the project.  They had this great “Empty Bowls” service event where they made a lot of money and a panel of Upper School Service Corps.  Students are deciding where the money should be spent.  This was one of my favorite projects where the project was “Kid Generated” and the kids were in charge.

This reminds me about the interconnectedness that exists in a school where a genuine concern such as hunger, can connect students to one another, and connect everyone at the school to this huge concern of local and global hunger.  Peace through service, we certainly hope so!  Peace, harmony and joy!

As the director of service-learning, do you have any recommendations to other educators regarding creating new or enhancing existing service learning experiences?

As the Director of Service Learning, I would encourage educators to look, in depth, at a local or global concern or authentic need; educate the children about the need and ask them “How do we help alleviate this problem?”  Students are always more creative than adults and they have this unfailing belief that they can make a difference.  It is not about solving the world’s problems; it is about recognizing the problems and believing that, as a young person, they can make a difference.  It is about encouraging the heart of service.

Thank you so much for sharing inspiring stories and suggestions for all of us! Again, congratulations on the Service-Learning Practitioner Leadership Award!