Integrating service into the curriculum is an opportunity for students to learn about environmental and social issues in a real-life context. A successful service-learning project is more than just volunteering – it involves students applying knowledge and skills to make a difference in their communities.
A successful service learning project is the correct blend of well-matched service, quality curriculum, student initiative, community involvement, and measurable output.
Getting Started with Service Learning
“Learning is more effective when it is an active rather than a passive process.” – Euripides
Youth love to feel needed and useful. Service learning is a wonderful tool to build confidence and self-esteem. What is service learning?
Service learning is an educational approach that combines learning goals with service projects that address the needs of the local community. Service learning can connect school day learning, out of school time, and the general community together. Service learning is wonderful as a supplement to other programs, or can stand alone as a program.
Want to get started with service learning? Here are some tips to get started:
- Know the difference between community service and service learning. Community service is project based. Usually community service projects are designed to help individuals or organizations by meeting a specific need. Service learning includes an educational component along with strategic service. Here is a great guide that explains the difference between community service and service learning.
- Connect to education. Service learning allows youth to connect to a social issue. Academic skills are reinforced as youth complete the project.
- Let youth voice inform service learning. What types of projects should your group complete? Let the youth decide! Youth are excited and engaged in projects they are passionate about. Ask youth about the topics and issues they are concerned about, and use that to guide the discussion around service learning. Here is link to some youth voice informed advocacy: https://casel.org/youth-voice/
- Bring in resources to support youth. Youth have great ideas. However, they might not be connected to all the resources in their community to support the project. Be sure to ask the experts to come to the table to provide information on needs. Make sure that the experts share about need- but don’t tell youth what service project they should do.
- Make sure to include reflection. Since service learning combines academics and service, youth need the time and space to reflect on what they have learned. Rowan College has a list of reflection to help get started.
- Make it fun. Service learning isn’t always serious- it’s a change to have fun. Make sure to include icebreakers and team building games as part of the process.
Developing a Service Learning Timeline
Ready to get started with a service-learning project? Great! Wondering how to create a timeline to run the service project? Each project is different, but here are some general guidelines:
- 1 month before: Staff should learn about community agencies, the services offered, and the needs. Reach out to the agencies to find out if they work with youth.
- 2 weeks before: Compile information from agencies to determine if group or individual projects would be best.
- 1 week before: Think about space and gather supplies. For service learning, space is very important. Pick an area that is welcoming, comfortable, and invites youth to be engaged. Supplies at this time could include journals or teambuilding activities.
- Week 1: Help the team get to know each other! This is a great week to introduce youth to each other within in the service learning group. Remember, the service learning group needs to bond together over the project, even if the youth know each other. Make sure to create rituals related to the service learning group in order to make it special.
- Week 2: Explain the concepts of service learning to youth. Ask youth to brainstorm about topics and issues they care about. Have youth brainstorm individually and as a group. Youth might start researching possible community agencies to contact. Staff can support by sharing some of the agencies found during the prework.
- Week 3: Invite agency experts in to share. Youth might want to hear from a wide variety of agencies as they look for a service project. On the other hand, youth might have a focus selected, and want to hear from several experts on the topic.
- Week 4: Determine the service project, review group tasks to finalize planning, and make adjustments as needed.
- Service Project: A service learning project can include a one-time or one-day project. Likewise, a service learning project could include multiple days or weeks of service both are totally ok! Looking to complete a multiple day service project? Make sure to include regular check-ins and service projects.
- Closing: It’s important to close a service learning project properly. Bring the group back together for a large group reflection. Allow plenty of time to talk through lessons learned. This is a great time to engage family members too! Ask youth to create a presentation, project or event to share about the service learning experience with their parents. Community agencies might also like to come to the presentation or event.
- 1-2 weeks after: Use this time to follow up with community agencies to find out what went well, and what could be improved. Survey youth to figure out program successes.