The Wheels on the Bus . . .

… go round and round, round and round (sing along!) The wheels on the bus go round and round, all around the town.

As I was de-cluttering my kids’ bookshelves this weekend, accomplishing the long-overdue task of removing preschool books to make way for their current and more advanced literature interests (Junie B. Jones and Captain Underpants), my thumb accidentally pressed the button on one of those battery-powered song-enhanced children’s books. For a good 30 seconds I sat waiting on the flower-embossed rug of my daughter’s room for “Wheels on the Bus” to come to a peaceful end. I scolded my thumb for reminding me of what I enjoyed least about reading to my kids: books with buttons.

The bus song, though, had a purpose that day. As I sat there, my mind drifted and a smile appeared as I reflected on my latest school bus journey with the 137 students in my COJO 111: Communication and Citizenship course. The week before we all piled on three big yellow school buses and headed over to work in partnership with about the same number of students at Cristo Rey High School, a college-prep Jesuit high school in its second year on 4th Avenue South and Lake Street in Minneapolis.

In fact, we will be riding our big yellow school buses to Cristo Rey nine times this semester to collaborate with the students there – all freshmen and sophomores from economically challenged families. The students there are working hard to earn a college prep education while simultaneously learning and working in a corporate internship as part of Cristo Rey’s unique Hire4Ed program (learn all about it at

What exactly are we up to riding those buses to Cristo Rey? Good question.

The quick answer: something very cool. It’s called service learning, also known as community-based learning. Service learning is, quite simply, a teaching tool combining meaningful community work with course objectives, resulting in exciting outcomes for all involved. Essentially, when we take our learning into the community, we put our skills into practice.
St. Thomas and Cristo Rey students

St. Thomas and Cristo Rey students begin getting to know each other by sharing stories of their lives, school and work.

Students in COJO 111 are partnering with the students at Cristo Rey to not only collaborate and develop Cristo Rey’s first yearbook, first newspaper and conduct original research to learn what inner city and diverse youth need and want to know about getting to college, but all of us are experiencing something about ourselves. Something about our cultural and personal identities. Something about how we are all unique and similar. Something about how communication builds community and fosters the common good. Something about how much we know and - most importantly - how much we don’t.

In every way, our trips to Cristo Rey and our side-by-side work with the students there teach us lessons we couldn’t possibly learn from a traditional textbook. The experience has even taught me – as community-based learning always does – to be more patient, give up a bit of my need for control (why can’t my kids keep their books in alphabetical order by author last name as they are on my office shelves?!), and to allow the chaos, messiness, noise and questions to teach me the most important lessons in life.

As for the chaos and messiness of my kids’ rooms and bookshelves . . . a topic for another day.