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Learning through Service

Written by Ainsley Ellington

The Haslam Scholars Program aims to educate scholars utilizing the program’s four pillars of integrity, diversity, social justice, and social responsibility. In this program, community service acts as a cornerstone. Scholars serve by volunteering at two Knoxville community schools, Inskip and Pond Gap Elementary. These community schools enrich their surrounding area by providing a multi-faceted support system to family units. The schools also allow scholars to volunteer in a subject of their own interest, which enhances scholars’ educational experience.

Ainsley with fellow Resident Assistants outside Fred Brown Hall

During my time in HSP, I have filled a variety of roles at Inskip and Pond Gap. From Circus to Lego League, I have experienced the diverse range of programming. Participation in these programs and the service dialogues facilitated by HSP has allowed me to become more aware of systematic problems affecting Knoxville. This awareness has developed my firm understanding of the intersection of these students’ lives with my own academic studies. As a student majoring in Maternal and Infant Nutrition through the College Scholars program, I have taken many courses that relate to my service experience; furthermore, my service opportunities have granted me first-hand knowledge of the relationship between nutrition and social and educational such as positive family interaction and academic success.

At the community schools, I have assisted with nutrition programming and gardening clubs. I have adored watching the children’s excitement as what went into the ground as a seed transformed into a tomato to be picked fresh off the vine. In my coursework, I have learned about the benefits of youth gardening education and it has been encouraging to see these principles in action. I have also watched as several fourth-graders transformed into creative, talented chefs. Once, the students even opened their own restaurant for a day, creating a menu, waiting tables in a classroom, and preparing orders with the utmost precision. Watching these students gain confidence and hearing stories about how they share recipes with their family members has reminded me how beneficial these programs are, not just for students but for families.

Perhaps the most worthwhile moment of my service experience has been teaching a seven-year-old at Inskip Elementary how to ride her bike during Bike Club. When I first met her, she would barely look at any of the volunteers. She was afraid of her bike chain, her bike, and even walking next to her bike unassisted. Unlike the other students in the bike club, it took her a while for her to get comfortable. She needed to feel safe and comfortable to be successful. She required patience, kindness, and compassion. Halfway through the year she rode her bike on her own and I will never forget how we squealed together, sharing a moment of pure joy.

Ainsely serving with a campus organization.

She taught me one of the most important lessons I could have learned—that every child is unique and needs immense support to foster growth in any capacity. I continue to use this knowledge to shape my conversations with each child with whom I interact. If it were not for Inskip’s bike club, this student may have never learned how to ride her bike or have built the courage to come out of her shell. The amount of confidence she gained in such a short amount of time is an example of the effects these programs have on students.

My passion for service at UT began with HSP, and HSP’s emphasis on service and community engagement has encouraged me to expand my service to the Knoxville community. Currently, I serve in several other Knox County schools and am a regular volunteer at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. I have also been heavily involved with the Center for Leadership and Service, participating in programming devoted to inspiring other students to serve. These experiences have afforded me indescribable benefits. I am much more connected with Knoxville and I am also significantly more aware of the larger social issues affecting the families in the Inskip and Pond Gap communities. This awareness gives new meaning to my HSP coursework and has shaped my understanding of the importance of service.