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What is Service-Learning?

Service Learning is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.

Young people, from kindergarteners to college students, use what they learn in the classroom to solve real-life problems. They not only learn the practical applications of their studies, they become active citizens and community members through the service they perform.

Service-learning can be used in schools, universities, and community- and faith-based organizations. It can involve a group of students, a classroom or an entire school.  Service-learning offers all its participants a chance to take part in the active education of youth while simultaneously addressing the concerns, needs, and hopes of communities.

       History:

  • Late 1800’s – educational movements and social change
  • Early 1900’s –intellectual foundations of service-learning: John Dewey, William James, and others who promoted models of “learning by doing,” and linked service to personal and social development.
  • 1967 – The term “service-learning” is coined to describe the combination of conscious educational growth with the accomplishment of certain tasks that meet genuine human needs.

       Examples of Service-Learning 

  • Elementary school students in Florida studied the consequences of natural disasters. The class designed a kit for families to use to collect their important papers in case of evacuation, which students distributed to community members.
  • Girl Scouts in West Virginia investigated the biological complexity and diversity of wetlands. Learning of the need to eliminate invasive species, the scouts decided to monitor streams and then presented their findings to their Town Council.
  • University students in Michigan looked for ways to support struggling local non-profit organizations during difficult economic times. Graduate communication students honed their skills while providing a wide variety of public relations services with community partners, including developing press kits and managing event coordination.

Each of the examples above shows how service-learning integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection in order to enrich learning experiences, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.

Benefits and Impacts:

Young people gain access to the range of supports and opportunities they need to grow up healthy, caring, and responsible.

  • Increased sense of self-efficacy as young people learn that they can impact real social challenges, problems, and needs.
  • Higher academic achievement and interest in furthering their education.
  • Developed problem-solving skills, ability to work in teams, and planning abilities.
  • Improved civic engagement attitudes, skills and behaviors. Many leaders in public service today speak about how they were nurtured, inspired, and shaped in early experiences in community service or volunteering.