The old saying goes that “experience is the best education.” To a certain extent, that’s true. Sometimes students have a hard time connecting the work they put into the classroom to the real world.
One of the biggest benefits of service learning is that students can see how the theory and lessons from their studies translate into the world they live in. Service learning creates a better connection between students and the community while reinforcing the lessons and ideas from the classroom.
People often associate service learning with collegiate studies, but K-12 education can also benefit greatly from it. Service learning doesn’t just look like med students working in free clinics—it also looks like high schoolers phone-banking for a local charity and everything in between.
By incorporating service learning activities into their curricula for students of all ages, educators can help create populations of community-minded citizens that make a difference no matter where they live.
Why Is Service Learning Important?
To understand the importance of service learning, we must first understand what it is. Many people confuse service learning with community service—and it’s easy to see why. So is service learning the same as community service?
Both community service and service learning involve volunteering time with a charitable organization or non-profit. Both help the volunteer to make greater connections within their community. Both are a source of good deeds and necessary work for a community.
The difference is that service learning is preceded by academic frontloading and followed by reflection and assessment as part of a class curriculum. It is a type of learning that creates civic engagement and hammers home the themes and theories being taught in class.
Service learning also teaches that there are several ways to engage with your community to solve a problem. The three types of service that service learning accommodates are:
- Advocacy: Reaching out to community leaders to highlight issues within a community and lobby for actions to resolve those issues.
- Indirect Service: Working in organizational or supplemental and administrative capacities to support and coordinate those conducting direct service.
- Direct Service: Working on the front lines to directly assist members of your community. This can include tutoring, reading at a nursing home, etc.
All of these types of services are valuable. Another one of the benefits of service learning is that is is often student driven. Students learn about an issue affecting their community and then do something about it.
The IPARDC Process
Service learning is designed to show students how they can apply their in-class learning to the world around them and affect change. It is important to structure the curriculum so that students are the ones to find the issues they want to address.
That’s why the IPARDC process is important to service learning. The process operates as follows:
- Investigation: Students research problems that can be affected by community service.
- Planning: Students create a plan for the type of service that would best address the problem they have decided to address.
- Action: Students take action in their community.
- Reflection: Students take time to reflect on the impact they were able to have. This may be a larger or smaller impact than what they had hoped for.
- Demonstration/Celebration: Students present their results and what they have learned while their achievements are celebrated by the class.
This process puts the power of service learning in the students’ hands. But for this process to work, students must have a belief that they can affect the world around them. Essentially, they need to engage with the concept of service learning before they participate in it.
The best way to generate engagement or buy-in among K-12 students is by providing memorable experiences that drive them towards educational goals. This is what NTC provides.
An in-person or live, online streamed performance geared toward the relevant student age group can create fond memories and a sense that there are things that these students can do to improve their communities.
Through humor, accurate information, activities, interactive learning and a presentation style that is geared toward generating engagement across the K-12 spectrum, NTC live engagements provide a push towards successful service learning projects that a teacher may not be able to create on their own.
NTC offers memorable engagements that focus on a variety of subjects, including energy usage, water conservation and money management. These engagements are designed to foster buy-in from the students that see them and participate in them.
By generating student buy-in through live performance and interaction, those students are more likely to see themselves as agents of positive change when the topic of service learning arises in class.
Put another way, an ounce of buy-in leads to a pound of action. And NTC’s memorable live in-person and streamed engagements provide that buy-in.
Benefits of Service Learning
While giving students the sense that they can generate positive change in their communities through service is important, there are several benefits of service learning that have yet to be touched on above.
Students engaging in community service will have the benefit of meeting positive adult role models. This can lead to students deepening their ties to the community and may even generate mentorship opportunities. That mentorship can lead to a lifelong passion for jobs in these industries, creating an inspired, motivated workforce.
Students get a sense of accomplishment. For example, if a class works on building a house for a charity like Habitat for Humanity, every time they see that house for the rest of their lives they can say, “I helped build that.”
Students get a feel for civic engagement. It is not always easy and can be frustrating to run into roadblocks, but by seeing the commitment of the people around them and by putting in their best effort, they can see how change is possible.
Students have a better commitment to classwork. Studies have shown that service learning has a positive impact on academic outcomes, including a reduced drop-out rate and improvements to student discipline and classroom climate.
When you combine all of these benefits with the improved sense of belonging within their community and increased civic engagement, you can see that the benefits of service learning are wide ranging.
The Community Is Calling
Service learning is a great way for students to take their classwork into the real world and create positive change, but that’s only the beginning.
Allowing students to identify and address problems they see in the world around them gives them a sense of agency that they may not have experienced before. By incorporating service into the curricula of K-12 students, you get a student body that has been acting in the community’s best interest for the majority of their lives.
Making service learning a pillar of K-12 education gives students the chance to scaffold their service in the same way a math class goes from addition and subtraction to multiplication and division. Students can go from direct service to a combination of direct service, indirect service and advocacy.
By working with NTC to generate student buy-in to the concept and goals of service learning, you can create an entire student body of community-focused, engaged young people.
The benefits of service learning are many and myriad. By engaging in service learning throughout their K-12 careers, students learn to value the people and places around them while working to affect positive change where they see the opportunity.
They say experience is the best educator. Service learning gives students that experience alongside structured lessons that help them process and adapt to what they find in their community. It’s the best part of the classroom and the real world all wrapped up in a single package.