New Service-Learning Curriculum

Posted by on March 31, 2006

[posted from K-12 Service-Learning listserv]

“Hands-On” Guides Can Be Used By Students, Teachers or 4-H Clubs to Create Service Projects

The “Agents of Change” guide uses a “special agent” motif to help middle school students plan and conduct their very own service learning projects. In addition to doing research and sketching out their project, activities help youth reflect on a service experience, deliver a speech, write a newsletter to involve others, create medals to recognize contributors and involve news media.

High school students are empowered through the “Raise my Voice” guide to investigate problems and potential solutions through a community survey and public forum. They also learn risk management techniques, ponder ethics, develop career skills and create presentations.

Adult “helpers,” teachers and group leaders who support youth along their journey into service will find the “Service Learning Helper’s Guide” loaded with group activities and advice. Activities include community mapping journal exploration, creating a video diary, building a website, and preparing a time capsule.

Organizers say the curriculum engages youth and helps them developmentally. “This curriculum empowers young people to confront issues in their own communities and to devise solutions,” said Ami Neiberger-Miller, coordinator for the design team. “Service learning doesn’t just change communities – it profoundly affects young people too.”

Research shows that service learning can offer many benefits to youth. Service learning helps youth:

* cognitively engage. A 2003 study found that students in grades 7-12 who participated in service learning reported more cognitive engagement in English/language arts (paying more attention to schoolwork, putting forth effort) than non-participants.

* have a positive attitude toward school and do better academically. A 2002 study of California service learning programs found that students participating in service learning had a better attitude toward school and scored higher on academic measures.

* develop civic and social responsibility. Students engaged in service learning programs are more likely to consider how to cause social change, increase their awareness of government and see a connection between politics and morality.

* avoid engaging in risk behavior. Studies show students involved in service learning are less alienated, exhibit fewer behavioral problems, and are less likely to engage in behaviors that lead to arrest or pregnancy.

* be seen as partners by adults and contributors to society. Studies show that community members who participate in service learning alongside youth view them as valued resources and contributing positively to the community.

A youth-centered focus makes this curriculum unique. Rather than having an adult dictate a service project – youth investigate problems and assets in their community. Based on research and personal interest, the young person designs a service learning project. Reflective questions and the journaling CD encourage youth to think through their experiences.

“This is not just another sugar-coated book about teaching kids how to do good deeds,” said Neiberger-Miller. “The guides take them step by step through the service learning process and give them tools to help along the way. We are helping youth build a service ethic that sticks for life.”

The curriculum also includes a CD with journaling tools. Up-to-date links for activities and purchasing information are available online at

The materials can be used by students working on their own, or in school classrooms, home school groups or 4-H clubs.

It took two years to produce the curriculum. The materials were designed by a multidisciplinary design team that included youth, professional educators and professors. Then it was pilot-tested with more than one hundred youth around the nation. The guides carry the seal of approval from the National 4-H Collection, signifying they meet 4-H’s standards for use in hands-on and experiential educational programs.

To visit the curriculum website online, go to

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