Community Partnerships Offer Expanded Learning Opportunities for Douglass High School Students

The MU Office of Service-Learning has partnered with Frederick Douglass High School to place service-learners in important volunteer roles for many years. This semester, 13 MU students are serving Douglass in roles that involve tutoring, classroom assistance, mentoring, counseling assistance and English language learning. The Douglass administration is committed to helping each of its students develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary for a productive life through a variety of creative and hands-on experiences, which allows MU service-learners to have a real impact.

“Under the guidance of our current administration, I believe Douglass is heading in a really positive direction,” says John Reid, science teacher at Douglass. “They’re making an effort to dissolve the wall between the school and the community through partnerships, such as the one with service-learning, and engaging curriculum that takes place inside and outside the classroom. Our students are being offered more opportunities, which make a visible difference in the attitudes and behaviors of our students.”

These opportunities span across ages, interests and Columbia-area organizations, many of which are also partners of Service-Learning. Reid incorporates several of these community partnerships into his coursework in biology and environmental science.

This fall, Missouri River Relief took 40 students on the Missouri River to complement Reid’s water quality and physics teacher Laura Zinszer’s bridge building units. Forty more students will have the opportunity to go on the river in the spring. Both trips are offered to Douglass at a discount rate and partially funded by Columbia Rotary Clubs.

Lucky’s Market donates excess produce to Douglass so Reid can teach kids about food nutrition and cost. Using the donated produce, students make vegetable salads and determine the cost of ingredients using scales to calculate the total price of one plastic Ziploc bag full. This curriculum goes hand-in-hand with techniques taught in Douglass’s cooking class. Weekly donations of produce are also used to reinforce quality nutrition in various classrooms throughout the year.

Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture (CCUA) brings students by to learn about nutrition and growing techniques. This semester, students helped CCUA grow lettuce that was eaten by students and donated to the Nora Stewart Early Learning Center. CCUA also helped build the school’s outdoor classroom, which grows vegetables used by the students.

Furthermore, students have the opportunity to attend Camp Salsa, a summer school program run in cooperation with Lucky’s and CCUA. During this program, students earn credit and get paid as they grow produce and prepare and sell the salsa.

The Columbia Rotary Clubs have also provided multiple grants to fund the school’s outdoor classroom and help its growth. Reid said that at the end of October, the garden had already produced 350 lbs. of sweet potatoes, some of which will be used at Douglass’s annual Thanksgiving Dinner on Tuesday, Nov. 24.

Along with the sweet potato side dishes, the dinner will offer baked turkeys (purchased with staff donations), ham hocks donated by Patchwork Farms of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, greens donated by CCUA, and desserts donated by Lucky’s.

Debby Barksdale, community liaison at Douglass, says the benefits of the dinner are manifold.

“One reason for the dinner is to celebrate what we are thankful for here at our school – and we have a lot to be thankful for,” Barksdale says. “It’s a safe, stimulating place to be. Another reason is it’s a time when our families can come together. It’s a great way to show students’ families that they are welcome and appreciated. It also shows our gratitude and appreciation for our community partners and friends of the school.”

But Douglass’s community partners and friends don’t stop there.

In addition to previously mentioned partners, community establishments actively engaged with Douglass, according to its website, are: the Columbia Tribune, the Harry S. Truman Veterans’ Hospital, Schnucks Supermarket, Job Point, The District, the Career Awareness Related Experience (CARE) program through the City of Columbia, Services for Independent Living, Kelly Services, the Columbia Health Department, and Columbia College. These partners provide a variety of assistance, from monetary donations to field trips to donations of time to special events held at the school.

Austin Miller, Douglass’s math department chair, has also established relationships with Ragtag Cinema and the True/False Film Festival during the past three years. Opportunities include free showings of movies for students, invitations to special events, free admittance to festival showings, volunteer opportunities and use of the theater by teachers during the day, as well as the addition of a Douglass Film Club and a small film studies course to Miller’s curriculum.

“Integrating partnerships with the community into the classroom is so important because, as an instructor, I need all the resources I can to help my students succeed,” says Miller. “I’m trained in ‘math education’ but that hardly covers the spectrum of interests that my students are likely to have. I believe in the saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ and that means I need the support of the community to provide the best opportunities in as many areas as possible for my students.”

When asked if the Douglass administration has aided him in his effort to provide these excellent opportunities and branch out with his curriculum, Miller responded with a smile and a simple “always.”

“There are so many amazing things that happen here,” says Barksdale. “We have staff and faculty that go the extra mile for students and students that are getting to do really wonderful things every day. Frederick Douglass High School is Columbia Public Schools best kept secret, and I view it as my job to let people in on that secret.”

On Tuesday, Nov. 24, from 12:00 to 2:00 p.m., Douglass High School staff and students would love to share a delicious Thanksgiving meal with community members and organizations that have supported their students in the past and those curious about helping in the future. The meal will be served in the school gymnasium. Feel free to join and bring a friend!

If you’re interested in helping support the Douglass program, please contact Debrah Barksdale at or 573-214-3680.

To find out more about service-learning opportunities with Douglass, email or call 573-882-0227.