Why this is Important
Healthy communities depend on engaged and informed residents that participate in civic life. Residents have to care about the community around them in order for it to thrive, and service learning is one tool to engage students in this lifestyle. Moreover, it highlights the importance of giving back to the community so this attitude can continue to further generations. Students also benefit from this kind of learning. The Center for Information and Research in Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) found that the college graduation rate increased by 22 percent among students involved in community service to fulfill class requirements. Promoting service learning will foster better communication skills for these youth who are working out in the community, produce a more highly educated population, and could potentially encourage employers to look favorably on those individuals and communities who are invested in their surrounding environment.
Maryland is considered the leader in state-mandated service-learning. It was the first state to require high school students to engage in service-learning as a condition for graduation. Maryland provided broad state guidelines for the requirement, but then left it up to each of the school districts to adopt their own programs. This flexibility has made the service learning requirement extremely successful because local districts were allowed to develop their own ideas catered to each individual community. In addition, in many cases schools have integrated service learning into their curriculum so it becomes part of a student’s learning, rather than something to just check off before a student graduates. Finally, the Maryland Department of Education has provided all kinds of training and resources for districts for project ideas, information for principals and peer contacts for more information. Annually the state conducts a service learning awards ceremony and the districts compete against each other for the best statewide project. In summary, the idea of service learning has become part of the student’s curriculum, the state has supported districts as they adopt ways to meet the law and principals and others are given the resources they need on the ground.
The National Service Learning Clearinghouse has several best practices best practices for service learning opportunities at both the college and high school levels. For example, Westerville, Ohio’s Otterbein University offers more than 80 courses that involve service learning in many subject areas. Otterbein students have embraced this type of learning with wide support.
Current Context in NC
The closest North Carolina ever got to a state-mandated service-learning requirement was the high school graduation project, which was mandated by the State Board of Education in 2005. While the graduation project was not explicitly a service-learning requirement, the project did require that students engage in either a service or work project. The high school graduation requirement, though, was repealed in 2009. Nevertheless, NC Department of Public Instruction still maintains its website on the graduation requirement and several school districts still require it for graduation. Examples include Duplin County schools and Chapel Hill Carrboro High School. Students have shown overwhelmingly positive support for these programs .
Other schools have embraced service learning not as a requirement, but as an option that is highly rewarded. Guilford County public schools offers a service learning certification when they graduate from high school if they complete 250 hours and address a pressing community problem. This program is designed to reward students who go beyond the regular high school curriculum and undertaken this extra assignment.