Service-learning: Learning Through Good Deeds

Janet Fox  |  5/4/2006 8:14:33 PM

Service-learning is a teaching strategy sweeping the nation that links community service to formal and informal education.

"Service-learning is an opportunity for young people to meet community needs while providing for purposeful educational growth," says Dr. Janet Fox, associate professor in the LSU AgCenter's 4-H Youth Development Department.

As a community development model, service-learning takes on real-life issues, such as pollution control, hunger, diversity and homelessness, Fox explains.

Whether the goal is academic, civic engagement, personal development or career exploration, youth benefit greatly from their involvement in service-learning projects.

"The LSU AgCenter 4-H program understands the benefits of service-learning, which is why service-learning has been adopted as a statewide focus for the coming years," Fox says. Louisiana parishes have adopted service-learning projects such as helping with hurricane recovery, carrying out environmental projects and promoting literacy.

"Each parish’s program is set up to meet the unique needs of local communities," Fox says.

Studies have found that elementary and middle school students who participated in service-learning develop a sense of civic responsibility and ethic of service. They better understand how government works and improve their problem-solving skills.

High school students who participated in high-quality service-learning programs develop more sophisticated understandings of socio-historical contexts. They think more about politics and morality in society and consider how to effect social change.

Overall, case studies have found that students in service-learning projects make gains in personal development and report a higher sense of responsibility to their school than did nonparticipants. They grow in self-esteem and are more likely to treat others kindly.

Service-learning participation is associated with higher scores on basic skills tests and on achievement tests in language arts and reading. Students gain career skills, communication skills and a positive work orientation.

"Service-learning provides important opportunities to learn beyond the classroom while serving others," Fox says.

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