Senator John Glenn credits his high school civics teacher with inspiring his lifelong interest in public service. Students today, Glenn says, are likely to receive similar inspiration from “an innovative teaching method for making civics lessons real for all students: service-learning.”
In an op-ed article written to inaugurate the National Commission on Service-Learning, which he chairs, Glenn cites research showing that service-learning, which interweaves community service and high-quality classroom instruction, benefits students in numerous ways. It “enhances students’ academic skills, fosters a lifelong commitment to civic participation, significantly sharpens the so-called ‘people skills’ and … prepares youth to enter and mesh with what almost surely is the most diversified workforce in this history of the world,” he writes.
“Service-learning has been drawing rave reviews,” Glenn adds, and a recent survey bears out his enthusiasm. Some 90% of respondents support service-learning in their local school, according to a survey conducted last September by Roper Starch Worldwide. Service-learning earned high approval ratings for its role in building academic skills (90%), promoting citizenship (89%) and reducing at-risk behaviors (66%).
The survey results were announced at the first meeting of the National Commission on Service-Learning, held December 6 in Washington, DC. The Commission, composed of twenty business, education, government, and media leaders, will devote the coming year to encouraging the adoption of service-learning and developing action plans to make quality service-learning available to all K-12 students in the country.
Leslie F. Hergert of EDC, who is director of the National Commission, praised the commissioners for connecting service-learning to their own experience and interests and quickly grasping its importance: “By the end of our first meeting, they were saying, ‘Okay, we’re convinced. Now we want to get down to work.”
The Commission is part of Learning in Deed, a multi-faceted, $13.5 million initiative launched by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in 1998 to increase national visibility and support for service-learning. EDC manages Learning in Deed jointly with the Academy for Educational Development.
Although nearly 89% of American schools involve students in community service projects, fewer than a third tie the community work to specific curriculum goals and prompt students to think deeply about the work they are doing. Service-learning projects embrace a range of interests, from saving endangered species to investigating a community’s history. This past spring, for example, 8th grade students in a minority Philadelphia neighborhood conducted a community education project on the U.S. Census. Developing their skills in writing, research, and public speaking, the students succeeded in garnering the highest rate of census returns for their neighborhood—56%—in all of Philadelphia. Comparable minority neighborhoods had return rates averaging 26%.
Originally published on December 1, 2000