3 Resources to Get Started with Service Learning

A little over a month ago, Heather gave us 4 Ways to Leverage the 2016 Election to Teach Important Concepts, which supported us in thinking about how we could help educate the next generation of voters. (If you haven’t read her blog entry, I strongly encourage you to do so!) To continue with the theme of promoting civic learning and engagement, I thought I would follow up with some ideas and resources for deepening students’ learning experiences by getting them involved in issues affecting their communities through service.

Research shows that when students plan educational activities, their investment, ownership, and consequent learning is greatly increased (Flutter 2006; Grace 1999; Wehmeyer & Sands 1998; Platz 1996). The three websites I reference here are ones I have utilized to facilitate student-directed service-learning programs and projects. Please consider these as potential starting points – there are many more resources out there!

Want to give students a broad overview of the real-life needs they can address through service? United We Serve is a website maintained by the Corporation for National and Community Service that spotlights federal and state initiatives focused on serving Americans in need – explore the “Initiatives” tab on the home page to learn more. Then dive into the toolkits with students to find out how your class or school can plan and implement their own service projects in the following areas:

  • Community renewal
  • Disaster Preparedness
  • Education
  • Energy and Environment
  • Health
  • Hunger
  • Veterans and Military Families

You can also search for local partners offering volunteer opportunities by zip code.

Looking for more structured service-learning programs or projects to activate student engagement? The current mission of Youth Service America (YSA) is to help all young people “find their voice, take action, and make an impact to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.” YSA does this through campaigns and programs supported by its Global Youth Service Network (GYSN) partners; each campaign or program comes with free training resources for youth, educators, organizations and families. YSA also funds service-learning year round through a number of grants directed to students and schools; these applications are great opportunities for your students to put their literacy and math skills into practice as they craft a plan for a service project or program and develop a corresponding budget.

To kick start service-learning with your students, I recommend participating in a service project for MLK Day of Service, Global Youth Service Day or 9/11 Day of Service. Then increase student engagement and learning by pursuing a Semester of Service or becoming a Classroom with a Cause.

Searching for creative ideas for getting older students involved in civic engagement and service?

DoSomething.org is a clearing house for social change campaigns that students can participate in anytime and anywhere – online, at school, at home or in their community; the target audience is students between the ages of 13-25. Campaigns are designed to engage the digital generation and range from tweeting students’ opinions to the local school board to starting a walking club to reduce diabetes risk. Students can filter campaigns by cause (i.e., animals, bullying/violence, disasters, discrimination, education, environment, health, homelessness/poverty, sex/relationships), the amount of time they have (e.g., less than 1 hour to more than 5 hours) and what type of activity they would like to do (e.g., host an event, improve a space, take a stand, etc.) Signing up for and completing specific campaigns also automatically enters students to win college scholarships totaling $22,000! DoSomething campaigns provide good hooks into service learning and can serve as jump off points for reflecting on what it means to be part of positive social change.

What resources have you used to promote civic engagement and service learning? Share in the comments below!


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