For parents and caregivers, one of the most important lessons that we can teach our children is about the positive impact that they can have on the lives of others in their community.
If you care deeply about raising your child to be a kind, thoughtful individual who will work to benefit others, selecting a middle or high school that prioritizes service learning in the curriculum can be one way of facilitating this personal growth.
Free Downloadable Guide: Take a Closer Look at Friends' Central School
Below, we define service learning, take a look at the key benefits it offers, and answer other common questions that parents often have about the philosophy.
What is Service Learning?
Service learning is often misinterpreted as simply being community service, but in reality it is so much more. While community service is a valuable part of engaged citizenship, service learning combines students’ academic learning and curriculum with community-based problem solving.
Service-learning programs work to engage students in active participation in their education through hands-on real-world connection to their community. Through service learning, students are able to connect their knowledge and learnings at school to activities that allow them to have a positive impact on the lives of those around them, while fostering a sense of civic responsibility, stewardship and empathy.
Through service learning, young learners are able to see their place as members of a larger community, and are given a rich opportunity to develop intellectually, socially and emotionally while making a true impact on the world around them.
Benefits of Service Learning in School
The benefits of service learning cannot be overstated, and parents should be sure to explore their potential school’s service-learning program to help identify the ways in which it can help their young learner’s growth and development. From emotional and intellectual growth, to a deep sense of purpose and civic responsibility, service learning works to develop young learners into capable, well-rounded members of their community.
1. Learning by Doing
Service learning is considered to be a form of “experiential learning,” and helps students move their learnings beyond the classroom and forge connections with the community and world around them.
Service learning encourages young learners to approach the community around them with empathy and collaboration and allows them to employ and strengthen their critical thinking and problem-solving skills in a way that demonstrates their impact on the world around them.
Deb Skapik, Service Coordinator at Friends’ Central School, uses the examples of students building boxes and packing food for local individuals who need it most and cleaning up trails and wood spaces after recent storms. These activities help them actively learn about concepts like food insecurity and environmental stewardship and upkeep while they make a hands-on impact in the wellness of the people and spaces around them.
Some other local and global service learning activities can include:
- Working with local building organizations like Habitat for Humanity
- Food drives, donations and delivery for the homeless and local shelters
- Cleaning up local parks, beaches and green spaces
- Visit local nursing homes or become pen pals with senior citizens
- Hosting book drives and library events for underserved children
- Launch a recycling campaign in school and in the local community
- Helping grow a local community garden
- Help raise funds, goods and awareness for natural disasters globally to support families affected by hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires.
For schools like Friends’ Central School, this idea of creating global citizens that forge positive connections with their communities is ingrained in the school culture, and service and experiential learning works seamlessly to help young learners achieve that goal.
Service learning gives students the opportunity to learn by doing while also getting involved in their community. Rather than reading about the importance of volunteering or the problems that need to be solved, they can actually participate and see the impact that they can have on the world.
Service learning helps students understand the role that they play in their community and the world as a whole and demonstrates the power they have in making a difference and bettering the lives and world around them.
This sense of responsibility for the welfare of their community, and ability to see their direct impact allows them to take pride in their work, see value in themselves as community members, and make them more likely to continue to take ownership of and part in these good works within their community.
3. Appreciation for Diversity
Through service learning, students interact with a wide range of different people, highlighting the value that we all bring to the table and teaching them the importance of every voice. This work within the community helps foster an awareness and appreciation of people from different backgrounds, cultures, and circumstances, and gives young learners opportunities to relate to individuals who may be very different than themselves, promoting a greater sense of equity.
4. Responsibility and Agency
The awareness of the world around them, and the many problems and struggles that need addressing helps service learners feel a sense of responsibility while also empowering them to take charge of their own learning and contributions to the community.
The act of service learning breaks students out of the isolation that a steady home and school life can offer, and allows them to truly see the political, social and environmental issues facing their community, and interacting with them hands-on allows them to truly see those struggles and identify the resources needed to help. This broader awareness instills a sense of responsibility in young learners, and fosters a sense of agency in their potential impact on the world around them.
Service Learning Creates Caring Citizens
Families should look for schools that emphasize learning through service and make a commitment to serving the community an important part of the curriculum. This element of learning helps students develop the critical thinking skills, positive community relationships and sense of empathy and respect for both themselves and others that ensures their education experience is shaping them into compassionate, intelligent, and well-rounded global citizens.
Schools like Friends’ Central School require middle and upper school students to participate in weekly service activities ranging from cooking, gardening, peer-to-peer tutoring, eldercare, recycling, and social justice.
Our students learn to be comfortable in new situations, to find commonalities with people different from themselves and, most importantly, they learn that they can make a difference in the School community and beyond.”