GOAL: Provide opportunities to connect classroom lessons with meaningful service to the community.
Research indicates that when children, teens, and adults have an investment in their communities, they are more likely to stay, care for the environment, and be less tolerant toward crime and vandalism. Volunteering in the community is important for
children and teens. It is essential for their development that such services offer more than a one-time event or activity. 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.
Service learning combines service objectives with learning objectives with the intent that the activity changes both the recipient and the provider of the service. This is accomplished by combining service tasks with structured opportunities that link
the task to self-reflection, self-discovery, and the acquisition and comprehension of values, skills, and knowledge content.
Service learning can be defined through the following criteria set by AmeriCorps and the National and Community Service Act of 1990:
- Active Participation: for younger children, projects that have quick, tangible results and physical action. For older youth, activities that promote relationships with those they are serving and allow for active roles in the planning, researching,
and implementation of the project.
- Meeting Real Community Needs: Partnerships such as adopting a program or a cause.
- Fostering Civic Responsibility: Projects that enable children and teens to see their contributions to the common good in their community. Fosters a sense of caring for others (as adapted from the National and Community Service Act of 1990)
- Integration of Educational Objectives: Service Learning projects are integrated into the educational components of the participant's program. Extends learning beyond the classroom and into the community
- Structured Reflection: A structured time set aside to discuss the project, its progress, its success, and the lessons learned from the experience.
For example, if youth collect trash out of an urban streambed, they are providing a service to the community as volunteers; a service that is highly valued and important. When youth collect trash from an urban streambed, then analyze what they found
and possible sources so they can share the results with residents of the neighborhood along with suggestions for reducing pollution, they are engaging in service-learning. In the service-learning example, the youth are providing an important service to
the community AND, at the same time, learning about water quality and laboratory analysis, developing an understanding of pollution issues, learning to interpret science issues to the public, and practicing communications skills by speaking to residents.
They may also reflect on their personal and career interests in science, the environment, public policy or other related areas. Thus, we see that service-learning combines SERVICE with LEARNING in intentional ways.
Service learning is not:
- An episodic volunteer program
- An add-on to an existing school or college curriculum
- Logging a set number of community service hours in order to graduate
- Compensatory service assigned as a form of punishment by the courts or by school administrators
- Only for high school or college students
- One-sided: benefiting only students or only the community
Youth participating in Teen REACH programs must be given the opportunity to participate in a minimum of one service learning activity per fiscal year. Information and resources for service learning opportunities can be found on the National
Service-Learning Clearinghouse website at http://www.servicelearning.org.