Service learning has proved to be an important tool in the development of the behavior and characters of participants. It aims at increasing the participation of students in community development, increasing their knowledge and community awareness. This in turn makes the participants be better individuals, students and citizens. However, for the project to be successful, careful planning has to be made. This is done to ensure that the service and learning objectives are achieved at the end of the exercise (Johnson and Notah, 1999). To ensure that the goals and objectives of all the components are met, the following steps should be undertaken:
- Planning and preparation
- Demonstration of results and celebration
This specific project was conducted to create awareness and increase the knowledge of students about Hartford, CT. Hartford is one of the best cities in the United States. The city has a rich background and history that reflects many generations. The natives have a rich culture that has been maintained and embraced for several decades now (Morgan, 2001). However, the culture and history of the city are being eroded at a fast rate. The members of the upcoming generations are changing their behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs. The youths do not have as much interest in the culture and traditions of the city as they used to before. In addition, there has been an increase in the rate of gang-related activities and violence in the city. These encounters have been so lethal that they have resulted in the death of several teenagers.
Due to this fact, therefore, this service-learning project aimed at increasing friendship and awareness among the youths of the city. To achieve this, six third-grade students from two classes were chosen. From the project, they would have an opportunity to learn about the different aspects of the community. The city was divided into different quadrants so that different students have the opportunity to learn about different parts of the community. In addition, students were expected to write letters to specific pen pals so that they can share their experiences. In addition to community awareness and participation, the project also aimed at improving the performance of students in the language arts curriculum. Due to the motive of the project, it gained support from the school administration and the parents.
Theoretical Background and Literature Review
Service learning is a part of experimental learning in which the model of the project aims at acquiring knowledge through experience (Morgan and Streb, 2001). This model combines academic knowledge with community service. In the process, students get the chance to know about the various aspects of the community such as history and culture. At the same time, the project leads to the growth and development of social responsibility and personal growth. The model comprises a number of stakeholders to ensure that it is carried out effectively and efficiently. This includes the students, teachers, parents, and other community members. These stakeholders have to work together to ensure that the overall goals and objectives of the project are achieved. As such, each individual has an important role to play. The main aim of service learning, therefore, is to combine course work and community service of students to achieve after the application of critical reflection (Davila and Mora, 2007).
Service learning is essential as it gives students a chance to offer their services in real-life situations. Participants, therefore, get the opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge that they have learned over time. This leads to their growth and development. In most cases, this occurs outside the classroom and school setting. This gives the participants a chance to escape the monotony of staying indoors. Through their services, the participants combine their curriculum and community service that leads to the development of civic and cultural responsibilities in them. This thus increases their chances of being better individuals and citizens in the future (Santmire et al, 1999). Learning via the model follows a series of steps and procedures. These include:
- Planning and preparation
- Demonstration of results and celebration
According to Kolb (2009), service learning leads to the development of meaningful services that links to their curriculum. Through the program, participants have the chance to air their voice, diversify their ideas, discover their talents, monitor their progress and come up with solutions to the problems that their communities are facing. Students should therefore be involved in all of the steps of the projects so that their ideas and views are incorporated. This increases the efficiency and success of the project.
Service learning takes learning to another level. It brings about a new experience in normal learning situations by giving students more experience and a sense of social responsibility. In addition, the project also integrates several teaching modes and learning objectives. Studies that have been conducted show that through service learning projects, teachers create a conducive environment that enables the students to get the best out of their curriculum. In addition, service learning projects also encourage collaborative groupings and teamwork. This gives students a chance to work together, share their ideas, and come up with new strategies to solve real-life problems. This not only gives the students a chance to get good grades but also plays a critical role in the building and development of their skills and knowledge. As such, scholars have the belief that service learning is essential as it plays a critical role in education at the present time and also in the future (Westheimer and Khane, 2000).
Students benefit a lot from service learning projects. Through its activities, service learning projects promote the development of knowledge and skills, team spirit, communication skills and self-reflection. According to Furco and Root (2010), service learning influences the following perspectives:
- Civil responsibility
- Personal growth
- Social interaction
- Ethical behavior
- Vocational development
The projects thus put the student in an environment that not only gives students a chance to put their theoretical knowledge and skills into practice but also a chance to discover their strengths, improve on their weaknesses, know their interests and talents.
Studies that have been conducted in service learning have proven that this forum plays a critical role in the development of cognitive and psychological aspects of students. It put students in challenging situations that need them to increase their thinking capabilities so that they can come up with solutions to real problems. In most cases, these solutions should not only solve the problem at hand but should prevent it and other related problems from occurring in the future. Due to this fact, therefore, service learning helps students to develop their thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills through social responsibility. In addition, students also get the chance to interact with one another, with students from other parts of the city, and also with the members of the community. This increases their social skills and strengthens the bond between them. Thus, the long-term result of a service learning program is the creation of responsible citizens who love and care for one another and the community.
Families also form an integral part of a service learning project. They work hand in hand with the students and other stakeholders of the project to ensure that it is successful and well implemented. Families, therefore, are engaged in a number of activities of the project. This brings them closer to the children and other stakeholders such as the teachers, other parents, and the school administration. This fosters the development of trust and mutual respect among one another.
Service learning also develops other skills and characters in students. This includes self-exploration and discovery, building and development of self-confidence, the development of leadership skills, crisis management, and conflict resolution, research skills, and the development of rapport. Through the project, students have a chance to monitor their behavior and the behavior of other students. This ensures that they work according to the stipulated rules and guidelines. As a result, therefore, students will develop a sense of obeying rules and guidelines, working under instructions, achieving specific goals, targets, or objectives that have been set, and developing respect for one another (Kaye, 2010). Furthermore, service learning gives students a chance to participate in various projects of the community. This gives them a chance to overcome the monotony of working within the classroom or school setting and to apply their knowledge and skills. This is especially important to those students who do not have strong academic and social capabilities. Through active participation in the project, the students get the opportunity to bring a positive change to the community (Lambright and Lu, 2009).
Learning is a multi-dimensional exercise. It requires the incorporation of several components for it to be effective and sustainable. According to Koliba et al (2006) practical application increases the interests of students in learning. With regards to this fact, therefore, students find it more interesting to participate in a project such as service learning due to its practical application. Here, they get the chance to apply their knowledge and skills, interact with other students and members of the community, discover their potential, interests, talents, and work to improve on their weaknesses. Furthermore, working together in groups to solve a common problem is also an essential aspect of service learning projects. This gives students the chance to work together as a team to bring about change in the community. In the process, students get to a clear and deeper understanding of the community, its history, needs, and how it operates. This comes about as a result of the students working together with the members of the community. Service learning projects are conducted by schools as measures to improve the status of the community. Their aim, therefore, is to advocate for community growth and development. In the process of working to achieve this aim, a strong bond develops between the schools that are involved and the community. This bond is essential as it strengthens the relationship between these two bodies. This relationship leads to each one of them supporting the activities of the other. This, therefore, results in increased rates of growth and development (Schoenfeld, 2006). In addition, the participation of students in service learning projects enables them to understand their role in the community. They, therefore, perform their civic responsibilities as per the expectations of the community.
Professional Development Activity
Hartford, CT is a city that that is diverse and has a rich history and pride. The city comprises individuals of different cultures and backgrounds. Due to this fact, therefore, the culture that the natives of the city have developed is rich (Ammon et al, 2001). However, as time goes by, the morals and cultures of individuals keep on changing. The members of the new generation seem to be adopting new cultures and lifestyles that are contrary to the traditions of the city. In addition, the city has been experiencing a lot of gang-related activities, mainly from the members of the younger generations. These encounters have been so intense that individuals have been hurt or lost their lives as a result. The diverse nature of the city has also contributed to the lack of cooperation and understanding among the members of the community. Individuals from one side of the city are not aware of the cultures and aspects of individuals from the other side of the city. This has brought about a huge gap. This gap might be the cause of culture change and eradication that the city is experiencing.
To alleviate this problem, a service learning project was conducted in the city. This project aimed to increase the awareness of culture amongst the members of the society. The target group of the project was third-grade students. The project was organized and run by the school administration. During the initial stages, three members of the school administration and the president of the Parents Teachers Association (PTA) met. In the meeting, the goals and objectives, strategies, and measures of the project were discussed. The participants of the project were students from two third-grade classes. Each class consisted of six students making the maximum number of participants for the project to be twelve. The main aim of the project was to integrate the language arts curriculum and community participation. The project was to be conducted during summer when there are not many students in school and there is minimal school activates.
The project began with the selection of a focus group. This group comprised of three members of the school administration and the president of the parents and teacher’s association. It was the role of the focus group to select the participants, divide the city into different quadrants, formulate the goals and objectives of the project, come up with methods of evaluation and ensure that the project is run effectively and efficiently. After their selection, the participants looked at the map of Harford, CT. the lesson required that they should write a persuasive letter to a pen pal from a different quadrant to increase his/her curiosity about exploring the city. To ensure that these letters were as per the expected standards, the grammar, style, and content were evaluated by the teachers. In addition, students had to read the letter that they had received from their pen pals before the class.
Evaluation Methods and Results
The participants were excited to be involved in the project. Prior to the commencement of the project, a background check for the study was conducted. It was identified that most of the participants had prior information about the city, its culture, and its traditions. The results of the service learning project proved that the methods that were used to conduct the study on and off the class were effective and efficient. The results also showed that the participants had developed knowledge and skills that would enable them to participate in community activities and solve problems in real life. This, therefore, led to the development of their cognitive and psychological skills. The results also showed that the participants fully understood the requirements of the service learning and followed all the steps and procedures. This was a critical factor in the success of the project.
In the course of this service learning project, the participants were able to participate fully in all five phases of the project. They strictly followed the rules and guidelines of the project. This increased the validity and credibility of the results of the project. From the evaluations that were conducted, it was evident that the participants understood the goals and objectives of the service learning and the benefits that this programme will have to the community. This motivated them to actively participate in the project. The participants were delighted to be part of the project. They were delighted to be a part of a project that would bring about change in the community.
Service Learning Project
As stated earlier, there are five main components of a service learning project. The first component is the investigation of the skills, desires, and needs of the students and the community. With this information in mind, it will be easier for the focus group to plan for the project. This forms the second component of the project. Here, the goals and objectives that the participants are expected to achieve are set. The methods that will be used in the course of the project are also formulated. The third step for the project in action. At this stage, students are expected to apply to conduct research on the problem at hand. For this study, the participants wrote letters to their pen pals that contained information about where they lived. This letter aimed to create curiosity about other parts of the city. Reflection on the project is the fourth step. The evaluation of the project is conducted at this stage. Finally, a formal presentation from the participants before the class is the last step to the project. This was an essential step as it aimed at sharing the information, ideas and experiences that the students had learned.
The participants of this project were twelve third-graders from two different classes. The pre-test that was conducted was to determine their basic information about the city. The city was divided into different quadrants and each participant was assigned a pen pal from a different quadrant so that they can exchange their ideas and experiences about their different localities. The standards of these letters were evaluated by teachers. This was essential since it measured the writing and creativity ideas of students. Finally, the students read the letters that they received from their pen pals.
Evaluation Methods and Results
The main method that was used to evaluate the project was through the investigations of the letters by the teachers. Further evaluations were conducted during the presentations. The content and creativity that were shown by the students were remarkable. From the results, it was evident that the project was in line with the school curriculum. In addition, the students had acquired skills that would enable them to solve real-life problems.
Service learning is an efficient project to incorporate social development and school. Through this project, students get the opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills to solve real-life problems. The project also improves the relationship between the school and the community. It also gives the students the opportunity to learn about their community, its background, culture and tradition. This particular survival learning was thus successful in attaining its goals and objectives.
- Ammon, F., Furco, D., Chi, K and Middaugh, (2001). Impacts of service-learning on participating students. Denver, CO: RMC Research.
- Davila, A. & Mora, M.T. (2007). CIRCLE working paper 52: Civic engagement and high school academic progress: An analysis using NELS data.
- Furco, A., and Root, S. (2010). Research demonstrates the value of service learning. Phi Delta Kappan, 91(5), 16-20.
- Johnson, A. M. and Notah, D. J. (1999). Service learning: History, literature, and a pilot study of eighth graders. The Elementary School Journal, 99(5), 453-467.
- Kaye, C. (2010). The complete guide to service learning: Proven practical ways to engage students in civic responsibility, academic, and social action. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Free Spirit Publishing
- Kolb, A. (2009). The learning way: Meta-cognitive aspects of experiential learning. Simulation & Gaming, 40(3), 297-327.
- Koliba, C., Campbell, E., and Shapiro, C. (2006). The practice of service learning in local school- community contexts. Educational Policy, 20(5), 683-717.
- Lambright, K., and Lu, Y. (2009). What impacts the learning in service learning?: An examination of project structure and student characteristics. Journal of Public Affairs Education, 15(4), 425-444.
- Morgan, W. (2001). Building citizenship: How student voice in service-learning develops civic values. Social Science Quarterly, 82, 154-169.
- Morgan, W., & Streb, M. (March, 2001). Building citizenship: How student voice in service-learning develops civic values. Social Science Quarterly, 82(1), 155-169.
- Santmire, T., Giraud, G. & Grosskopf, K. (1999). Furthering attainment of academic standards through service learning. Presented at the National Service Learning Conference, San Jose, CA.
- Schoenfeld, R. (2006). Service-learning: Bringing together students, parents, and community to create a better world. New Horizons for Learning. London: Sage
- Westheimer, J., & Kahne, J. (2000). Report to the Surdna Board.–D.V.I. New York: Surdna Foundation.