Presenting the New Pennsylvania Service Learning Alliance
Posted by on May 08, 2012
By Hillary Kane
The newly (re)organized Pennsylvania Service-Learning Alliance (PSLA) is a group of educators, nonprofit leaders, government agencies, and business leaders from across Pennsylvania who support the growth and expansion of high-quality service-learning in Pennsylvania. We embrace the nationally recognized definition of service-learning as “a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities. and support the eight research based Standards of Quality Service Learning Practice. 
This group was initially formed as an Advisory Board to PDE as stipulated by a particular federal funding source, Learn and Serve America. PHENND Director Hillary Kane served as one of the first co-chairs of the group. Learn and Serve was discontinued last year and thus the Advisory Board is no longer mandated to meet nor officially recognized by PDE. However, members feel passionately about service-learning and have decided to continue on as a group on their own. PSLA has already secured a small grant from State Farm to continue meetings and to offer professional development to teachers. In fact, there will be a PSLA-sponsored training in Philadelphia on May 7th. Details are at: http://updates.phennd.org/2012/04/service-learning-as-rigorous-real-life-project-based-learning-in-ost-programs/
Pennsylvania has a long record of accomplishment with regard to service-learning. It was one of the first states to have a state-wide network of peer consultants and mentors, and has hosted two National and two Regional Service Learning Conferences. Pennsylvania also boasts two service-learning teacher leader award winners and by many accounts was the model for other states’ programs. State agencies beyond PDE have also embraced service-learning; the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has made a commitment to service-learning and provides a liaison to PSLA. Unfortunately, service-learning has been lost in the shuffle of changing administrations and has succumbed to the extreme focus on standardized testing.
PSLA is being supported by PennSERVE: The Governor’s Office of Citizen Service. As the state agency for service, and as a current recipient of funding from the same grantor (CNCS) which funded LSA prior to its elimination, PennSERVE was the logical entity for ensuring the continuation of service-learning initiatives. Not only did PennSERVE receive LSA community-based grants when funding existed, but most of the AmeriCorps programs in their portfolio operate within the sphere of education. Therefore, PennSERVE has offered to serve as the home of PSLA for purposes of convening trainings, website links to PSLA information, and use of CNCS funding to support initiatives.
PSLA believes that service-learning can play an integral role in advancing student achievement across grade levels and subject areas. We believe that service-learning is a valuable teaching strategy that motivates students, re-engages at-risk youth, and is an effective tool for narrowing the achievement gap. We seek to foster a network of teachers, administrators, students, and communities that promotes high quality service-learning practice through the provision of training and professional development, networking, tools and resources, funding, recognition, and research and evaluation.
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