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Service-Learning: A How-to

So, you ask, what's service learning?

Basically stated, it’s an educational practice where teachers take the knowledge and skills taught in the classroom and apply them to service projects in their community. Students not only learn about traditional classroom subjects, but they also become empowered to make their own decisions about doing good in their community. Since no age group is too young or old to be involved, all age levels (K-12 and beyond) can be included.

An example of a service-learning project looks like this: An elementary science class decides to do a project to address environmental issues. The students come to a consensus about planting trees on their school’s campus. The teacher guides the students to research the local climate, soil types, and tree species that would survive. Then the students would partner with a local company, which would donate a few trees. The students then plant the trees, while cleaning up the schoolyard.

As you can see, not only do the students have the opportunity to learn about science principles and the environment, but they are simultaneously being educated on issues related to philanthropy and community service. The students also develop valuable communication skills, learn about local community resources, and do some good—all at the same time. Studies have shown that only does service-learning provide an avenue for students to become active, positive contributors to society, but it also motivates students to learn and become more engaged in their studies. It also increases attendance.

Whether you are a socially conscious parent, teacher, or community organizer, you can get involved in service-learning. Here are a few tips to get started:

1. Do your research and ask around. See what is already being done in the area. Some communities and school districts are already very involved in service-learning. Maybe you are that great addition that they are looking for.

2. Involve youth. Yes, adults are there to monitor progress, but ultimately service-learning is about youth-driven projects. Have them brainstorm ideas and assess what areas in the community that could be improved.

3. Use a service-learning lesson plan. Use educational curriculum to teach about a specific school subject while incorporating service.

4. Make connections. Connect with community leaders, teachers, parents, non-profit organizations, and many more to ensure the success of the service-learning project. You never know what kind of connections you will make or resources you might find.

5. Most of all, have fun!

For more information about service-learning, check out some cool initiatives here:

The LEAGUE, a K-12 service-learning support organization
Learning To Give, curriculum division of The LEAGUE
Learn and Serve, America’s National Service-Learning Clearinghouse
Youth Service America

Sarah Percoulis is an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) working for The LEAGUE, a K-12 service-learning organization. While she is not a teacher, she is very interested in empowering others and providing the best possible opportunities for youth (young and old) to grow into responsible citizens.

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