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WHS students attend National Service Learning Conference

WORTHINGTON -- Three Worthington High School students recently attended the National Service Learning Conference in Atlanta, Ga., discussing leadership and hands-on, community-centered learning opportunities.

"I feel like it's really important to have service learning as a part of school education," said Ananaya Alwal, 17, the daughter of Ojullu Alwal and Abang Ojullu of Worthington. "Service learning is helping out in a way that benefits both you and the community."

All three students heard about the national conference, which is organized by the National Youth Leadership Council, from their work with the Youth Council of the Minnesota Alliance with Youth.

The group left April 5 and returned to Worthington April 10.

While at the conference, they attended service learning workshops, networked with student leaders from across the U.S. and heard about other service learning options and organizations.

The students also toured the CNN Center, visited the Georgia Aquarium and visited Underground Atlanta, a cultural and shopping center.

In one conference workshop, students focused on the class system and learned the differences between the upper, middle and lower classes.

"It was pretty eye-opening," said Adyiam Kimbrough, 13, the daughter of Aida Simon and Mike Semere.

Apoman Abella, 17, daughter of Achalla Abella, agreed.

"It makes you reflect back on how you look at yourself," Abella said.

Abella belongs to Dynamic 507, Six Steps Hip Hop Group and the student council. Alwal is part of Dynamic 507 and the student council, plays soccer and basketball and serves as a circle mentor. Kimbrough belongs to Odyssey, FCCLA, the Worthington Middle School Science Club and participates in track, soccer and the History Day competition.

All three students spend time volunteering, helping out at the Banquet in Sioux Falls, S.D., the YMCA in Worthington and the Bread of Life Feeding Ministry, as well as at community events such as the International Festival and with educational functions, including the Color Project.

"We try to teach them about the background of what we're doing as well," said Chelsea DeRuyter, Americorps Promise Fellow, who works with the student volunteers.

The three conference attendees all belong to the Minnesota Youth Council of the Minnesota Alliance with Youth, which meets every two months to talk about improving education, reducing the achievement gap and preventing students from dropping out of school.

Service learning is critical to students because it is engaging, Abella said.

"I feel like it's more meaningful when you get to partake in a project rather than just hearing it from the teacher," Alwal said.

Service learning is also something students can do their entire lives, DeRuyter said. They can use what they learn both in school and out of school, long after they graduate.

The conference cost $375 to attend, all of which was paid for through scholarships. Airfare and the hotel stay were paid for by donors, including UFCW Local 1161, the Nobles County Integration Collaborative and State Farm - Jessica Noble.