Selecting a Service Project
After you have convinced your students that community service isn’t only what you do when you’re ordered by the court, then you can begin the tedious process of selecting a project. But don’t just select a project and tell the students that this is what they have to do. With service learning, it is vital that students have ownership in the projects. How can that work?
Teachers or youth group leaders should be familiar with their community. One step that the teacher/facilitator can do is to research community service organizations in the area in advance. Animal shelters, nursing homes, food closets…What do they do? What do they need?
Students can assist with gathering this information, depending on the age of your students and the amount of time you have to devote to the service learning project. You can also have guest speakers from community organizations visit the class and share about their missions.
If your time schedule is limited to a few weeks, if you are working with younger students or if this is your first service learning project, then your project will run smoother if the teacher collects the preliminary information in advance. One issue that frequently comes up with service learning project ideas is the support of the administration. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have the permission of your school administration to pursue your project. Students get extremely disheartened when they have decided on a project only to have the idea shot down by the principal. Share a list of potential ideas with your principal in advance to see if there are anything you should avoid.
Here are some options for using student voice to choose the service project.
- Have students brainstorm and make a list of projects/community issues which interest them. Narrow down the list by discussing the feasibility of attempting the projects.
- Find out what talents and interests the students have, then brainstorm about how they can be used to help their community.
- Give students of list of potential community service projects and have them vote on one.
- After having a few guest speakers, have the students decide which organization they want to support.
Even if all students don’t agree on a single project, usually students will support the majority if they are able to use their own special skills. For example, maybe a group of musically gifted students wanted to go and sing for senior citizens, but the rest of the class wanted to do an anti bullying campaign. Perhaps the musical students can write a song about bullying to be performed for younger students.
Some teachers and facilitators even take on multiple service learning projects, which can be confusing, but it can work. The sky’s the limit.
Inspiring Lifelong Passion for Learning
Have you ever heard a high school student say that he or she can’t wait to be out of school? Maybe they want to take a break before college or maybe they are just done with education and feel that they are ready for the “real world”. Some of these students say they don’t think that school is preparing them for the “real world”. Adults usually discover that education does not stop after school, but is our education system preparing students for the world that is waiting for them? How can students be encouraged to continue to learn and to apply what they learn to their lives?
When I was visiting a school in my community, I noticed a sign that displayed the vision of our local school district: “We inspire a lifelong passion for learning.” The mission of the district was also stated, “We prepare all students to achieve excellence by providing the highest quality education while empowering each individual to positively impact their families, communities and the world.” These are strong words and impressive goals if that is truly what is being achieved.
After observing the effects of service learning on students, I’ve often wondered why it isn’t regularly incorporated into every curriculum from K-12. Service learning is a highly effective way to help students impact their communities.I don’t mean the extra “suggested activities” at the end of a unit that require extra planning for teachers. I’m talking about deliberate service learning lessons which incorporate learning objectives and result in a service project that benefits the community.
When students are afforded the opportunity to use classroom learning to impact real problems in the community, knowledge actually becomes power. Students not only develop a sense of purpose, but also the seeds for a “lifelong passion for learning” are planted.
Here’s what some students’ comments after completing service projects: “Why don’t we do this all the time?” “I learned that I can do this next time.” “That was awesome! Can we do it again?” “It was a lot of work, but it was fun.”
In public education, it is necessary to assess the performance and progress of students, but testing is not the ultimate purpose. The vision of educators should be to inspire that lifelong passion for learning and the mission, to empower students to positively impact their families, communities and the world. Service learning is one way to pursue that vision and to live out mission. Next week, I’ll discuss some very practical ways to incorporate service learning into the curriculum.
Motivating Students to Serve
One morning after having worked with this particular class of high school students for about a month, I asked them, “what could you do to make your community a better place?” The responses that came back surprised me. “I don’t care about this community.” “What does this community do for me?” “I hate it here!” “I can’t wait to move away from here.” “F*** this community!” Wait. What?
This was a decent Florida city near the beach. It wasn’t perfect, but I have been to places that had a lot more problems. I had grown up on the southside of Chicago, for goodness sake, and I had lived in rural Mississippi for the last several years.
So it occurred to me that the one thing I could do was find out what the students hated so much about their community and see if they could do anything to make those things better.
So I had them brainstorm about some of the things that they didn’t like. This was especially effective when students made very negative comments about their school. Maybe they didn’t like their school lunches, or the campus was drab, or students were bullied a lot. It’s amazing to see students unite about an issue and instigate change. I’ve seen students beautify their campus, educate others about bullying and change their school lunch menus – all through service learning.
So how do YOU get youth motivated to serve?