Connecting Curriculum with Community

The current issue of District Administrator magazine (October 2010) is online with a great article about service-learning. Elementary students in the Montpelier (Vt.) Public Schools visit the Montpelier Visitor Center to create a Kids Guide for touristsNow, service-learning is not just “kids helping out.” It’s a way to combine academics with real-world applications and authentic learning.

Connecting Curriculum with Community by Susan Gonsalves, explains this concept with a vibrant mix of research, expert voices, and examples of what students are doing to make a difference at home and around the world.

Be sure to check out the special sidebar called, “Applying Service Learning to Technology,” where one of our Generation YES districts, San Juan School District in California, is profiled. I’ve written about San Juan before, but now a much wider audience can see what a great job they are doing with technology for teachers and students, and how their GenYES students support makes it more likely that technology is used in every classroom. The article quotes Nina Mancina, San Juan’s program specialist for special projects and grants.

“A key component of GenYES is the pairing of students and teachers to find ways to creatively integrate technology programs into the curriculum. “The students become so engaged as they find this connection with teachers, and [the process] gives them a sense of belonging that is very powerful,” Mancina says. Students often act as teachers for a day, giving presentations about the ins and outs of working with a particular computer program in front of an audience of both instructors and peers. They are also called upon to perform technical support when computers break down.”

So, can I do this?
You may be thinking that in this day and age, this is a “nice to have” rather than a “gotta have.” But here are two things that may change your mind. (quoted from article, emphasis mine)

  1. Research linking higher academic achievement with service learning projects is limited but growing. This fall, Learn and Serve plans to launch a large-scale study to track and compare student progress by testing in classrooms across the united States with and without service learning. a series of studies by Shelley Billig, vice president of RMC Research Corporation, links higher state test scores with service learning participation. Students in high-quality service learning classrooms also were found to have higher average daily attendance and less tardiness than students from comparison classrooms.
  2. Funding from Learn and Serve America makes it possible for more than 1.5 million students from kindergarten to college to devote nearly 20 million hours in service learning projects annually in 1,600 local programs across the country. Additionally, about one-quarter of the nation’s elementary and secondary schools have adopted service learning programs, with 40 percent of these making service learning an integral part of their curriculum.

So does that change your mind? Students CAN make a difference, it’s GOOD for them in many different ways, and your school (and teachers) NEED HELP. Why not tie all these together into one package!