Photo Credit: Inquiry and exploration are important aspects of service learning. Photo by Piper McDaniel

In the first post in this series I shared several youth engagement approaches FAC Net participants have incorporated into their work. In this post, I’ll provide more information about one specific method of youth engagement: the service learning project.

What is Service Learning?

Service learning is an approach to experience-based learning that allows students to develop and execute service projects based on community needs.

It relies on students and their community partners to work together to identify issues and co-create service projects to address those issues. This is in contrast to more traditional volunteer programs that provide experiential learning that is driven solely by the needs of the community partner. Ultimately, service learning projects seek to connect students with real community needs that they can have an impact on.

Other key qualities of service learning include:

  • Emphasis on all phases of the project including planning and development, execution, reflection and celebration;
  • Promotion of citizenship; and
  • Connections between coursework/classroom concepts and student’s lives.

Service learning can be accomplished by students at any stage of their education; schools and organizations serving elementary – college age students may provide service learning opportunities.

How Can You Use Service Learning to Further Your FAC Goals?

Engaging with students in service learning can be an effective way to meet multiple objectives in your FAC work. Consider the following three principles as you develop service learning partnerships (these principles can be applied to any partnership!).

1. Only proceed with partnerships that are a good fit

Make sure that any partnerships you enter into are a good fit for you and the students you work with. The kinds of projects students will be able to successfully undertake will depend on their age and skill sets. Safety issues must also be considered when designing projects.

2. Share leadership

Great service learning projects represent real community needs—even young children are very perceptive and will know if you’ve contrived a project for them to work on. Honor the intention of co-creating solutions to community challenges. While you may be serving as the issue area expert in the project, allow students to offer ideas, help shape actions and share ownership of the project. Everyone likes to make a real difference—you can empower the students you work with by helping steer them toward meaningful projects, rather than “make work.”

3. Foster open communication

My number one tip for working with educators is to establish open communication from the start. Teachers are notoriously busy, so clear expectations and effective communication is critical to managing an effective partnership with a school-based project. In the case of service learning projects, establishing open communications between educators, students and any other community partners involved in your project is an important opportunity for students to practice this life-skill. Reflection is another aspect of open communication that is critical to executing a service learning project. Inviting reflection–about how the project has affected the students’ lives and their communities—helps students solidify and integrate the knowledge they gained through implementing the project.

Many of the activities fire adapted communities pursue are well suited as service learning projects. FAC represents a true community need, has personal relevance to students’ lives and is adaptable to a variety of competencies and age groups. If service learning sounds like something you’d like to pursue, check out the resources below, and reach out to your local educational institutions to locate partners.

Service Learning Resources:

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