Evaluation of Service Learning Programs
To continue and expand funding from legislative initiatives that began in the 1990s, several organizations have collected and reported data regarding the positive impact of service-learning programs for students, community organizations, and recipients of service in communities. Unlike community service projects, service-learning endeavors connect students' service experiences to their school work. The article summarizes evaluation studies, describes strengths and weaknesses of program implementation, and references organizations and websites from which stakeholders can access current information about expanding and sustaining service-learning programs.
Keywords Civic Engagement; Civic Responsibility; Community-School Partnership; Community Service; Public Purpose of Education; Service Learning; Social Responsibility; Standards-Based Curriculum
Service Learning: Evaluation of Service Learning Programs
Service-learning takes community service a step further by connecting the service performed in the community to school work. Several initiatives were adopted in the 1990's to support increased student involvement in their communities and, by the end of the century, involving America's students in community service to prepare them for responsible citizenship was Goal 3 of the "National Education Goals for the year 2000" (Kleiner & Chapman, 1999).
To support service-learning projects in communities throughout the U.S., the National and Community Service Act of 1990 established the Learn and Serve America Program to fund projects that enable students to make meaningful contributions to their community while strengthening their educational skills and developing an awareness of social responsibility. In the last decade, an increasing number of schools “have provided service-learning opportunities for students that connect their curriculum studies to service activities such as tutoring younger children, adopting a river, creating a museum exhibit, or conducting oral histories with senior citizens. In these and similar instructional activities, youth have simultaneously learned to serve and served to learn, becoming both better students and better citizens” (National Commission on Service Learning, 2002, p. 2).
The 1990 legislation created a program “to award grants to states, schools and community organizations to develop and implement service-learning. The National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993 expanded the federal role in service-learning and provided funds for every state to incorporate service-learning into schools. In 2000, $20 million in funds were distributed by the Learn and Serve America program to support local service-learning efforts. Other funding sources include the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Dewitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, The Ford Foundation, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and Surdna Foundation” ("Service-Learning at a Glance," 2007, p. 30).
Learn and Serve America (www.servicelearning.org) defines service-learning as a “teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with the school curriculum to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities” ("Service learning is," 2007). In the opening to a report by the National Commission on Service-Learning (NCSL), Chairperson John Glenn referred to an ancient saying to articulate the concept of service-learning -"I hear, I forget. I see, I remember. I do, I understand." In addition, he suggested that service-learning can add a fourth "R"-which stands for "responsibility"-to the traditional three R's of education (cited in National Commission on Service Learning, 2002).
Benefits of Service Learning
Brown (1998) contends that students gain confidence, competence, and the ability to empathize for others through service-learning. Additionally, they build employment skills by engaging in problem solving and by working cooperatively and collaboratively with others. Brown also explains that an important enhancer of service-learning is a stronger connection between a school and outside organizations that help and benefit the community. For example, community members who volunteer as partners in service-learning and those who receive service often modify their opinions about adolescents, seeing them as crucial resources and contributors rather than as troublemakers. Service providers join together to impact a larger community, refrain from replicating the same efforts, utilize resources effectively and contribute more broadly to the healthy development of youth.
The 2002 NCSL report also cites several studies indicating that service-learning:
• Reverses student disengagement from schooling by increasing their motivation to participate in school activities focused on identifying actual community needs;
• Reinforces the standards-based curriculum by providing a real-life context for learning;
• Promotes the public purpose of education by preparing students for citizenship;
• Builds on the growing willingness of students to become involved in service to their communities while adding an academic component to such service; and
• Contributes to young people's personal development by increasing their sense of responsibility and to their career development by building workplace skills (National Commission on Service Learning, 2002, p. 4).
In addition to Learn and Serve America, several organizations provide information and resources for beginning or enhancing service-learning programs. They include Learning in Deed (www.learningindeed.org); National Service-Learning Partnership (www.service-learningpartnership.org); and Youth Service America (www.ysa.org). Service-learning is first and foremost a locally-driven form of education, and the majority of power and decision-making occurs at the local level. Advocates for service-learning programs include community leaders, students, parents, school superintendents and teachers across the country.
Incorporating Evaluation Strategies
Creating an ongoing and effective service-learning program requires careful planning, evaluation, and revision based on the evaluation data. The Corporation for National and Community Service stresses the importance of ongoing program assessment:
Step 9: Assess and Evaluate Your Service Program
“Ensure that your evaluation assesses the outcomes of the service project for the youth, the community, and the organizations involved. Documentation and evaluation of the project will create a legacy for the individuals and organizations that participated. It will also point the way to the next project for your classroom, and may foster activities in other...
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