Service learning prevents dropouts, engages and motivates students

An op-ed article in today’s Christian Science Monitor by John Bridgeland contains some powerful evidence that service-learning could be a key factor in lowering dropout rates, increasing engagement, and motivating students.

Service learning tackles high dropout rates and civic disengagement

Service learning programs like our own GenYES create win-win situations where students are empowered and engaged to solve real problems in their schools and communities. In GenYES, students learn how to work with teachers and staff in their own school to solve technology problems and help teachers use more technology in the clasroom.

Service learning is an educational technique that combines classroom learning with community service. What’s critical is that it is not only key to getting more students engaged in their communities, but, according to a report released last week by Civic Enterprises, it is also a powerful tool to keep students on track to graduate from high school.

This report, called Engaged for Success, is well worth downloading – it contains research, case studies, and much more. And it’s not just drop-out prevention. This research would be useful to support adding service learning to improve student motivation, increase engagement, and encourage student voice.

A nationally representative survey of high school students, including at-risk students, paints a hopeful picture. Eighty-two percent of all service-learning students said their view of school improved because of their service-learning classes, and 77 percent said that service learning had a big effect on motivating them to work hard. Furthermore, 64 percent of service-learning students claimed that service learning would have a fairly or very big effect on keeping them from dropping out of school.

Although we hear a lot about “research-based” programs. But many times schools only look for research to justify what they are already doing. Research should be informing the search for innovative solutions, not done as an after-thought.

And it’s something students want. They are looking for opportunities to make a difference, to be somebody, to count and to be counted on.

Although high-quality service-learning programs are cropping up across the nation, such programs are still unjustifiably rare. Eighty-three percent of students said that if their school offered it, they would enroll in a service-learning program. Yet only 16 percent of all students, and only 8 percent of students at low-performing schools, reported that their school offered service learning. All too often students do not have access to, or do not even know about, such programs offered by their schools.

You don’t need to look outside the school walls to find authentic problems that students can solve. Technology integration is just such a tough problem for many schools. The research is clear here too – technology integration improves student achievement. And yet, it remains at the bottom of the to-do list in far too many schools.

This makes GenYES a double-impact research-based innovation. By helping teachers use technology in all classrooms, GenYES students provide a much needed service in their own school and gain much in return. GenYES students learn more than just technology skills or how to help teachers. They learn that they can make a difference, that their talents are useful and needed, and that they can have a say in improving education for all.

Research proves it.


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