Monday, March 24, 2014

Community Service: Key in a 21st Century Education

This year has been tremendously challenging and rewarding due in part to my teaching assignment.  For the
first time in my 19 years of teaching, I am teaching all English classes- no electives.  One addition to my schedule is Advanced English 8.  Each day is a challenge because the curriculum is completely new, so I find myself rushing to stay a few steps ahead of my students.  I am also extremely fortunate because my brilliant colleague has gifted me endless files of lessons, tests and projects that she has perfected over the past ten years.  However, like most teachers. I feel compelled to tweak the material to fit my teaching style and philosophy.

One project I was dreading was the Community Service Project.  Each year our department requires 8th grade students to donate six hours of service to the community and then report back to the class on what they did and what they learned.  It isn't that I don't value community service, but as a parent, I know how busy my students and families are and I was worried that I would be bombarded by complaints about lack of time. But my colleague assured me this is a great project that the kids really love to do, so I dove in but kept my expectations low.

The project consists of several parts.  First, students are given a list of ways they can donate their service. The community aspect is very broad and students can donate time to a neighbor or to an organized group. Students are given about a week to think about the project and write a proposal about what they want to do and why.  I think this is an essential part of the project's success because it makes the students think about why they are choosing the project and they have to make time for the service.  The original project was slated for about three weeks, but because I knew many students were busy with winter sports I extended the project giving them about 5 weeks to complete the six hours.  I suspected most students would choose something easy and I was surprised to see the number of students who selected a cause or organization they had never volunteered for before.

The second part the project asks students to reflect on their service they write approximately three pages about where they volunteered, what they did and what they learned as a result.  Reading these reflections highlighted the impact of this project.  Over and over, students reflected on the joy they received from giving their time and talents to someone in need.  Many concluded the project empowered them by shining a light on the impact one person can have on the community.  Volunteering was not a new experience for most of them, but reflecting on the experience was.  This illustrated to me the impact that education can have on service by deepening the experience through self-reflection.

Finally, the students presented their community service to the class in a short presentation.  It was fun hearing the students explain to the class some of the lessons they wrote about in their journals.  It also allowed the students to see the kinds of service each of them had chosen.  While many volunteered to shovel snow, babysit or pack meals for Feed my Starving Children, there were also presentations which showed students' individual passions or interests.  One student collected money to create care packages for, a few avid readers volunteered at the library, two animal lovers volunteered for a rescue shelter and the vet clinic, several athletes donated time to youth tournaments or to coach and two brothers made and served a meal at the Ronald McDonald House.  Listening to the presentations allowed the class to see the multiple ways that they can serve and it is my hope that they have now been inspired to continue this service into the future.

Much has been written about the need for authentic learning experiences in a 21st century curriculum, after experiencing the facets of this Community Service project I would go one step further and advocate that service be integrated into our curriculum as well.  Students need to see their role in the community and how their time and talent can make an impact.  At the end of the project, one parent wrote to thank me for requiring this project stating that they often intend to volunteer, but rarely make the time to do it.  Perhaps one of the greatest gifts we can give to our students and to our community is to make help them make time for service by making it a staple in our lessons and our curriculum.


  1. You are very right about the need to teach children about community service. It gives them a chance to put others above self and to achieve in areas that are important to them. Development of this skill and desire on the part of students is important as it is a huge thing when they become adults.

    I live in a small town and have lived in small towns across Canada. I am involved in the Volunteer Fire Service, Air Cadets and Royal Canadian Legion. All three of these organizations have an on-going problem in attracting and retaining volunteers. Thank you for incorporating this into your curriculum! It may pay huge dividends when these students are adults.

  2. Thanks Dan! I hope we start cultivating a new generation of volunteers one teen at a time!