Examples within the School Curriculum
Service-learning programs can take many forms and be implemented in a variety of contexts. Programs can be integrated into all grade levels—from kindergarten through college. The format, length, and focus of the program should be age-appropriate and meaningful to the students. With modifications to support their needs, students with disabilities can be effectively engaged and experience a variety of benefits.1 According to the National Study of the Prevalence of Community Service and Service-Learning in K–12 Public Schools, 39 percent of schools that have service-learning include service-learning in the board-approved curriculum for at least one subject in one grade level.2
Principals in schools that implement service-learning reported that service-learning was most likely to take place in social studies (52 percent), science (42 percent), and English/language arts (34 percent).3 Examples of service-learning embedded within different subjects follow:
Elementary school students learned about birds’ migration, challenges in urban environments, and the types of birds that wintered in their area. Consulting with local experts in a variety of fields, the students cleared a plot of school land and installed or planted appropriate feeders, trees, and plants. Because the students could see the sanctuary every day from their classroom windows, they became familiar with the animals’ routines, and their interest in wildlife grew. They also learned how to calculate the cost of regular food refills and how to coordinate regular maintenance.
Middle school students cleaned and decorated bus shelters in their town to spread messages of cultural appreciation. They began by researching and giving reports on life in different countries and by participating in activities from various cultures. They applied their knowledge by creating posters, which were installed as bus shelter panels. Cleaning and decorating bus shelters also sparked conversations about being more respectful of public property.
High school students planned a sequence of instructional activities and created materials (e.g., lesson plans, worksheets, audio-recordings of texts) to promote the reading comprehension skills of elementary school students. Using those materials, high school students tutored struggling readers from a neighboring school.
Although less frequently, principals also reported that service-learning was incorporated into art, music, and theater; career education; mathematics; health; special education; gifted/talented education; physical education; and foreign languages.4
Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS)
CNCS was created as an independent agency of the United States government by the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993. The mission of CNCS is to “support the American culture of citizenship, service, and responsibility.” Currently, CNCS delivers several programs that are designed to help communities address poverty, the environment, education, and other unmet human needs. One of those programs is Learn and Serve America, formerly known as Serve America. This program, through its grantees, engages students in community-based organizations and schools in service-learning programs.
National Service Knowledge Network
The National Service Knowledge Network website serves as a hub for sharing training and technical assistance for Corporation for National & Community Service programs. The site offers an online learning center, a library of downloadable publications, an events calendar, and a collection of practices and program examples.
Editor’s Picks: Service Learning & Volunteer Opportunities
The U.S. Department of Education’s website features a number of volunteer and service-learning opportunities that youth can explore. Each offers unique experiences either domestically or internationally for youth to get involved in so they can make a difference in the lives of others through a variety of community projects.
Service-Learning—Learning by Doing, Students Take Greening to the Community (PDF, 32 pages)
This booklet from the Environmental Protection Agency contains several service-learning projects that focus on various aspects of safe solid waste management, such as reducing household hazardous waste and buying recycled-content products. Each profile includes contacts who can provide information on how students can start a similar program. Additional resources, including grants to help start such a project, are located in the back of the booklet. Learn more on the EPA website.
Other Resources on this Topic
Tools & Guides