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  Workshop 6: Civic Engagement  
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Essential Readings

Standards of Quality for School-Based and Community-Based Service Learning
prepared by the Alliance for Service Learning in Education Reform

School-based and community-based service learning initiatives have much in common, and both are served by attention to standards of good practice. Each desires to serve and educate young people. Both are strengthened by community service activities that are recognized by the community and the youth as meaningful. Subtle differences exist, however. Where school-based initiatives can benefit from intentionally linking the service experiences of students to what they are studying in the classroom, community-based initiatives can be strengthened by developing specific learning objectives fitted to the mission of the sponsoring or recipient agency. Yet, even when these differences exist, school-based and community-based service learning initiatives can each be strengthened by a better understanding of the language, objectives, interests, and issues faced by the other. The presentation of the two sets of standards together helps identify areas of significant overlap and subtle divergence, and underscores the opportunities for schools and community agencies to work together for common goals.

Community service is a powerful tool for youth development. It facilitates the transformation of a young person from a passive recipient to an active service provider and consequently helps redefine the perception of youth in the community from a cause of problems to a source of solutions. When combined with formal education (school-based) and/or when thoughtfully organized to provide concrete opportunities for youth to acquire knowledge and skills and to make a positive contribution, (community-based) service becomes a method of learning or "service learning." Service learning enables teachers and youth development professionals to employ a variety of effective teaching strategies that emphasize youth-centered, interactive, experiential education. Service learning integrates curricular concepts with "real-life" situations and empowers youth to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize these concepts through practical problem solving, often in service to the community.

Service learning connects young people to their community, placing them in challenging situations where they associate with adults and accumulate experiences that can strengthen traditional academic studies. Service learning also makes classroom study relevant, as young people apply their skills in the world beyond the school's walls with work in math, social studies, language arts, and science.

Service activities provide an opportunity for youth and adults to work together in solving community problems and improving the quality of life. In the process of working toward common goals, youth and adults engage in meaningful dialogue and develop trust and respect for each other. They recognize both have needed skills and knowledge to contribute to society. Awareness and acceptance of significant roles for youth in the community are powerful forces in dispelling the sense of isolation and alienation so many young people suffer today.

Although the terms "service learning" and "community service" are sometimes used interchangeably, they are not synonymous. Community service can be, and often is, a powerful experience for young people, but community service ripens to service learning when there is a deliberate and explicit connection made between service and learning opportunities that are then accompanied by conscious and thoughtful occasions to prepare for and reflect on the service experience.

Effective service learning responds to the needs of the community as well as to the developmental and learning needs of youth. Duration of the service role, type of service, desired outcomes, and the structure for reflection must all be designed to be age-appropriate. Service learning is most effective when it combines community needs and youth's interests and is compatible with young people's skills and abilities.

The following standards of service learning are not a list of absolutes or even a complete inventory of the elements that contribute to high quality. When these standards were developed, recognition was given to the wide diversity of regions, populations, communities, and programs they will embrace. They are designed to be broad reaching in their scope, yet concrete enough to be translated into action as a measure of success in the use of service learning.

What Is Service Learning?
Service learning is a method by which young people learn and develop through active participation in thoughtfully organized experiences. Service learning can take place through activities that are organized by the school or the community.

School Based Experiences

  • Meet actual community needs.
  • Coordinate in collaboration with the school and community.
  • Integrate into each young person's academic curriculum.
  • Provide structured time for a young person to think, talk, and write about what he/she did and saw during the actual service activity.
  • Provide young people with opportunities to use newly acquired academic skills and knowledge in real-life situations in their own communities.
  • Are a practical application of what is taught in the school.
  • Help to foster the development of a sense of caring for others.

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