ANAHEIM — Webster Elementary School is putting life back into lessons, and it’s getting noticed.

On Tuesday, Webster was one of 11 California schools awarded with the Service-Learning Leader Schools Award for upholding educational values that extend beyond the classroom. At an Anaheim luncheon and conference, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell honored schools with the award, which included a plaque, a flag, and a certificate.

“These schools were selected because they have wonderful service-learning programs that help students integrate what they learn in class and apply it in ways that benefit their communities,” O’Connell said.

Webster Principal Phil Cott applied for the award last October, a process which involved much searching and soliciting for newspaper articles, school records and letters of support from various organizations to verify Webster’s position as an outstanding leader for the community and for other schools.

“It’s recognition of things that we do that we’re proud of,” Cott said. “When I saw [the application], it was just so much what we already do and what we already are.”

The application included 40 statements concerning school quality that Webster had to rate itself on a scale of one to four, four being the highest. Webster was graded mostly with fours, some threes, and the occasional two, Cott said.

“Only 11 schools received the award this year, so it’s quite an honor,” said Mike Brugh, CalServe service learning program director.

Brugh said that the award meant most, if not all, the teachers in the school have incorporated service learning into classroom practice. Service learning is a core instructional method that gets students to apply the ideas they learn in class to their outside communities.

Brugh described a service learning school where one of the teachers came down with breast cancer. The students became very interested, learned about breast cancer, made posters, and did projects on the subject.

“We are honored to be recognized for something that Webster has consistently done for a very long time. We do not only give back to the community through a variety of service projects, but link those projects to the classroom and learning experiences both at school and at home,” said Dorothy Reinhold, Webster PTA co-president. Reinhold also wrote a letter for the application on behalf of the PTA.

Earning the award is hardly the end of the road for Webster.

“We have only just begun! Under Mr. Cott’s leadership, Webster is going to keep looking for ways that our students can make a difference in the community, and that also lead them to a greater curiosity about and understanding of the world outside the school,” Reinhold said.

The award, which can be displayed for a maximum of five years at Webster, truly exemplifies the outlook Cott and Webster have on education. Cott, who says the school is now starting to focus on recycling and composting, thinks homework has its place in the education process, but that Webster is more concerned with the bigger picture.

“Education [should] have actual value outside the classroom,” Cott said. “This is a way of taking these beliefs and carry them out.”

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