Benefits of Service Learning

Two months after my college graduation, I packed my car and drove across the country to be part of a national service program. It was one of the best experiences of my life; I made wonderful friends with adventurous and community-minded teammates, I worked with beautiful children who needed attention and support, and I gained both a feeling of self-worth for having done something important and an appreciation for service and volunteerism that otherwise would’ve passed me by. Which leads me to wonder: How prevalent is service learning in school today?

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Of course, service learning as taught in schools does not involve gathering your belongings and moving great distances. Defined by the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse, it is “a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities”. Essentially: It’s a way for students to interact with the world in a context framed by academics. For instance, an elementary class studying waterways might take part in a riverfront cleanup, and then regroup to discuss the effects of pollution on the environment.

Data shows undeniable benefits. Several studies even report that service learning increases academic achievement. One, An Assessment of Civic Engagement and Educational Attainment writes that students who participated in voluntary community service (a beneficial side effect) achieved higher scores in reading, math, science and history than students who participated in required service. And students who were required to serve performed better than those who completed no service at all. Furthermore, and perhaps most impressively, the academic benefits are unbounded by racial lines – a disparity the education system has been battling for some time now. And let’s not forget that more and more, colleges are looking for students with well-rounded experiences rather than sky-high test scores.

But the benefits of service learning extend beyond the classroom; not only can it be a creative and engaging way to supplement a lesson plan or pad a high schooler’s college application, it can have holistic effects, as well. Take the college applicant: Having had the opportunity to see how various subjects are applied in the “real world” likely gives him a head start in determining what course of study to follow post-high school. And for students of all ages, service learning is an introduction to the world; a chance to see what’s out there and who needs help and what they can do to make it better. It provides what every teacher strives to offer: a feeling of self-worth and importance.

For an overwhelming list of the benefits of service learning, read the Impacts of Service Learning on Participating K-12 Students.

Does your school practice service learning? Have you noticed the effects? Tell us by commenting below.

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