School districts today are searching for ways to forge meaningful connections between the schools and the community. What better way to accomplish this daunting task than to use the concept of SERVICE LEARNING?
According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, service learning combines service to the community with student learning in a way that improves both the student and the community. The characteristics of student learning focus on elements that strengthen the relationship between the district and its community:
- An Integral Part of the Curriculum
Service learning adds authenticity to the curriculum as students experience activities that create an understanding of the relevance between their academic experiences and their role in the “real world.” School leaders find that service learning projects enhance academic performance by helping students to transfer classroom learning concepts to their everyday world.
- A Time for Reflection
Service learning projects provide students with structured opportunities to reflect on their service through reading, writing, speaking, listening, and creating in a variety of venues. Students recognize the connection between the classroom and their lives.
- The Development of “Intangibles”
As a result of service learning, students develop a myriad of “intangibles.” Today, districts strive to foster those hidden values that remain at the core of education, yet are so difficult to solidify in day-to-day teaching opportunities. Citizenship and personal values such as empathy, beliefs, self awareness, self-confidence, and social responsibility are tangible rewards of service learning projects.
- The Desired “Reciprocal Relationship”
The concept of service is critical to the community because service learning is based on identifying and meeting real needs in the community. As students build the concept of service, they forge a strong, indestructible connection between themselves, the school, and the community. Civic responsibility is born and prepares students for a future of giving back to their community and the world. The interdependent relationship between the school and the community requires restoration of this bond with each generation.
Creating the Foundation for Service Learning
How do schools begin to use service learning to connect with the community? Administrators and Boards of Education set the tone, recognizing that schools functionwithin a community. Often the spark begins with a teacher who sees the value of involving students in their society. The next step involves linking the goals of the curriculum to a learning experience that will involve students in the solution to an identified community need.
Because service learning is authentic, collaboration exists at several levels. Students collaborate with each other to identify needs, opportunities, and methods. Collaboration extends to the community as services are provided to various agencies and individuals in society. Parents, too, can be drawn into the equation as they provide assistance in the logistics of service-learning projects.
By providing opportunities for students to reflect on their service experiences, schools enhance the probability that students will “see the big picture.” Better yet, as they evaluate their service to the community, students will develop better, improved ways to meet identified needs.
Schools involved in service learning must celebrate their successes. It is important to highlight the collaboration that provides the mutual benefits created by service learning. Building on the success of one project will strengthen the school-community partnership.
Consider these Projects
Spanish students develop a Spanish-English cookbook for the local food pantry
- Students serve as mentors to English Language Learners
- Students develop a recycling project to clean up a local park
- Students earn money to purchase books and then travel to a metropolitan area to read to low income students and leave the books for their school library
- Spanish students earn money to buy Spanish children’s books for doctor and dentist waiting rooms
- Students develop a “Peace Park” where citizens can have a place to sit and enjoy the concept of peace in a community
- Music students provide concerts at the local senior center
When all is said and done, service learning truly makes a difference. The community, the schools, and most importantly the students, benefit from the relationship. It’s time to get started! Set the tone…forge the connections…serve the community….and WIN!