Isn’t service learning just a fancier name for the community service hours many high schools require seniors to complete before they can graduate? In a word? No. Articulated service-learning programs go beyond completing community service requirements for graduation. It’s the difference between learning to fix the root cause of issues rather than volunteering for a cause. While volunteerism is a vital role and volunteers may be needed for a service learning project – volunteerism doesn’t change root causes. Here are seven things to look for in a great service-learning program in high school.
SERVICE LEARNING PROGRAMS ARE ACADEMIC BASED
Look for a program that integrates academic credit with their service learning curriculum. Programs should have intentional learning goals.
SERVICE LEARNING PROJECTS SHOULD BE BASED IN STUDENTS’ OWN COMMUNITY
The best service learning programs look for ways students can improve life in their own community. Service-learning focuses on effective citizenship with the goal of students better understanding social issues relevant to their own community.
SERVICE LEARNING PROGRAMS ARE RESEARCH BASED
Before you can solve a problem, you need to know why and how it came to exist. In the best service learning programs students research and understand the roots of the issue in their own communities before agreeing to act by developing a program.
STUDENTS LEAD THE SERVICE LEARNING PROJECT
While teachers can act as mentors and coaches to the students, in Service Learning projects, students learn leadership skills by taking on the leader roles in the project.
SERVICE LEARNING PROJECTS BUILD PARTNERSHIPS
Students leaders conduct research and reach out to local leaders to find community partners.
SERVICE LEARNING HONORS ACHIEVEMENT NOT HOURS SPENT
In Service Learning, emphasis is not placed on short-term community service hours but rather on the larger achievement of the program.
SERVICE LEARNING PARTICIPANT REFLECT ON THEIR EXPERIENCES
Participants generate and act upon ideas and build relationships, but in service learning an important component is reflection. Participants learn to reflect on their actions, think back on how decisions were made, and tasks performed, Participants learn from the process and reflect on improvements such as what does the group need to move the project further, should they have chosen a different method, and how could they be more successful.
Can all of this help you get into your dream college? Maybe, but it’s up to you. In your college interviews you can talk about your developing leadership skills, you can show your history of collaborating with others to reach a common goal, and you can show prospective colleges how you live your school’s core values. These reasons could put you at the top of the candidate list for college.