The GoodCharacter Service Learning Primer

by David Elkind and Diana Flasher


Service learning is a form of project based learning in which academic goals are accomplished through community service. Service learning develops citizenship and good character, and provides a rich context for academic instruction and student learning.

This primer is intended to provide guidance to school teachers and others who wish to engage their students in service learning projects, but aren’t sure exactly what to do or how to do it.

In a nutshell, a good service learning project should:
– satisfy specific curriculum objectives
– be selected by the students (with appropriate teacher guidance)
– involve the students in preparation, implementation (action), and reflection
– be documented

In a properly implemented service learning program the role of the teacher is more supportive and supervisory than directive. The teacher helps the students select an appropriate project, integrates the project into the curriculum, and guides the students through the necessary steps to completion. The teacher assures that activities are structured in ways that promote learning, monitors student activities, and facilitates students’ reflection and analysis of their experiences. However, all adult functions should be performed in a manner that is appropriate for the age of the children, and should, as much as possible, encourage student autonomy and creativity.


Service learning is neither an add-on nor a diversion from the curriculum. It is a powerful approach to teaching that provides kids with authentic learning experiences in which they learn academic content in a real-life, real-world context. There are many advantages to this approach, including:
The kids love doing it. It’s engaging, inspiring, and motivates them to learn.
It develops the students’ communication skills by requiring them to read, write, listen, and speak.
In addition to academic content, students learn a range of valuable practical skills including: problem solving, organizing, collaborating, project management, research, dealing with obstacles and setbacks, etc.
It develops character virtues and interpersonal habits such as respect, responsibility, empathy, cooperation, citizenship, initiative, and persistence.
It empowers the kids with the realization that they can make a difference.
It makes a positive contribution to the community.
All kids can actively participate and make a meaningful contribution regardless of their talents or their deficits.


There are many different kinds of service learning projects for all age levels. A lot of them deal with community needs related to health, poverty, social issues, or the environment. Another popular kind of community-based activity involves the students in documenting local history or culture through interviews, archival research, and photography. Projects like these connect the students more deeply to their communities and help the community at large to maintain a sense of history and identity. Other good service learning activites involve students helping other students through student mentoring and peer or cross-age tutoring.

Some activities, such as student mentoring or peer tutoring, can take place within your own school building. Others require getting the kids out into the larger community. Some may be one-time activities, while others occupy the whole school year or longer.

Included at the end of this primer are a number of examples of successful service learning projects for all age levels.

Want to know how to do it? Go on to the next page. And the next, etc.


Popular wisdom says that the important attributes of service-learning are:

genuine community need

community partnerships


structured reflection

clear connection to the curriculum

student voice.

Your project should be structured to include all of these attributes. With that in mind, let’s consider how to go about it.

Generally speaking, there are three stages to a successful service learning project. They are:

1. Preparation

2. Action

3. Reflection

Each of these stages is an essential part of the service learning experience.

The next few pages will look into each of these stages in detail.


Preparation begins with planting the seed, cultivating your students’ interest in a problem or a need, stimulating the kids to want to do something about it. This can involve a study or an investigation, or simply a discussion that captures their imaginations. Of course there are those magical moments when somebody walks into the classroom upset or inspired about something he/she saw in the newpaper or on television and feels a call to action. But more often it starts with a teacher who brings up a subject in class, gets the kids percolating on it, and then suggests that they do something about it. This is especially true in the elementary grades.

Here are some good ideas for getting started. Please keep in mind that the steps given here assume you are starting from zero; you may not need to do all these things. What’s important is to mobilize your students. Do what works.

a) What needs or opportunities exist? Hold a class brainstorming session to identify needs within the community or opportunities to do something beneficial. Challenge the students to think of as many ideas as possible. Encourage them to build on each other’s ideas, to be spontaneous, to take risks, to think creatively. Then have them try to identify the causes behind each need, as well as some possible interventions.

b) What are some solutions? Start generating workable solutions (what can realistically be done?). This is where project ideas start to take shape. Ask the students to tell what they like about each proposed idea, and to share their questions and concerns.

c) What resources are available? At this point some preliminary research may need to be done before a final decision is made. You might need to identify resources available to help or support the project if any are needed. This could include a grant proposal, a business or organization in the community, or parent volunteers. It may be helpful to invite an individual with expertise in the area of interest in order to provide relevant information before a final decision is made.

d) Decide on the project. When making the final decision, try to assure that all the students:
– have adequate input
– understand the proposed decision
– are willing to support and implement the decision.

Engaging the students in this kind of a process helps them learn how to analyze and creatively solve problems and enhances their decision-making skills. It also makes them stakeholders in the eventual outcome.

Ready for some exciting action? Take a peek at the next page.


a) Plan It
Help the students organize the project themselves. This is good training in planning, collaborating, and taking responsibility. Develop a workplan. Brainstorm a list of tasks and determine their most logical sequence. Determine the initial action steps to begin the work. Lay out a realistic timeline for getting the work done, and set milestones for intermediate goals. The timeline should show when the class expects to finish each step, as well as when they will accomplish the major goals.

This phase of the project often involves forming ties with people or organizations in the community.

If you foresee any problems or obstacles, strategize ways to manage or eliminate them. Plan how the class will track the progress or measure the results of the work along the way.

Define the roles of each student and group of students. Allow the students to share the leadership of the project. Decide how the work will be distributed fairly and appropriately among the students, as well as what outside resources will be needed. Discuss and agree on how the students will support and coordinate with each other’s efforts to attain the common goals of the project (e.g. who will depend on whom to carry out the work?). This will deepen the students’ sense of responsibility and commitment to the project. Emphasize the principles of collective responsibility and collaboration, which are critical for the success of the project.


b) Do It
This usually involves a good deal of collaboration and sharing of responsibilities. During the project, students should reflect on their experiences (see the section on reflection, next page). Documenting their activities is a good way to do that. It gives the students practice in describing and summarizing various aspects of the project, and in thinking critically about what and how they are doing. They might keep journals, write articles, make a video or digital photo report, or connect their “in the field” learning to readings and other in-class activities.

It’s important to hold discussions during this “action” phase of the project in order to get feedback from the students and to discuss and solve problems. Ask the students how the workplan could be improved. This is an opportunity to share information, insights, make recommendations, and develop a continued workplan. Students should be encouraged to voice concerns, speak their mind and to challenge others in a mutually respectful environment where there are no negative consequences for differences of approach or opinion. Constructive feedback from the teacher can provide a lot of encouragement and motivation. Acknowledge the efforts of the students. Recognize both incremental progress on the part of one or more students and the major accomplishments of the class. Then identify and agree on what actions to take next. This process gives students experience in active listening, questioning, and problem solving which will expand their thinking while maintaining their focus on what they need to accomplish together.

How to increase student learning through reflection – next page please.


Much of what we learn in life comes from reflecting on our experiences. Here is where we find probably the biggest difference between service learning and community service. Service learning requires that we provide structured time for students to think, talk, and write about what they did and observed during the service activity. Without reflection, we lose a great opportunity to maximize student learning.

Types of Reflection
There are several types of reflection that are useful to engage your students in:
   • Cognitive reflection examines the new knowledge and skills the students gain from their service experience. This includes the kind of learning that is addressed in the curriculum (math, science, writing, social studies, etc.).
   • Affective reflection looks at what students feel as a result of their experience. How has this experience changed their attitudes or opinions or sensitivities?
   • Process reflection considers what students learn from the process, itself. This includes things like how to work with others, and understanding the consequences of actions.

By engaging the students in all these different kinds of reflection, you can optimize the learning part of the service learning experience.

(Thanks to the Close Up Foundation for the ideas on this page.)

The next few pages will help you address this critically important element of your project.


A helpful way to frame questions for reflection is by using this handy little triad,

So what?
Now what?

Here’s how it works:

 • What? These are questions that ask, “what are we doing, what have we accomplished, what have we learned?”

 • So what? These questions ask, “what difference does/did it make, why should we do it, how is it important, how do we feel about it?”

 • Now what? These questions ask, “what’s next, where do we go from here, what has this prepared us for?”

Enough of the theory. Here is a batch of typical questions teachers ask both during and after the project:

What do you think you will do and what impact do you think you will have?

What needs did/does/will your project help fill?

What are the causes of those needs?

How do people contribute to this problem? How do we help to solve it?

What expectations do you have about your service experience?

Did anything surprise you? If so, what?

What did you do today that made you feel that you made a difference? Why?

Did anything happen that made you feel uncomfortable? If so what, and why do you think it made you feel this way?

What did you do that seemed to be effective or ineffective in service to others?

How does your understanding of the community change as a result of your participation in this project?

How can you continue your involvement with this group or social issue?

How can you educate others or raise awareness about this group or social issue?

What are the most difficult and most satisfying parts of the service you are performing? Why?

What do you think is your most valued contribution to the project?

Is there a person or activity you find interesting or challenging in your project?

How do you see you role with this project? How does that compare with how others may see your role?

Have you learned from any disappointments or successes from your project?

Has there been a problem situation that you want to discuss with your teacher?

How is your service relevant to what you are learning in class?

For a variety of reflection activites, go on to the next page.


No matter what grade level your students are at, there are many reflection activities they can participate in. These things can be done as a group or individually. Here are some ideas for reflection activities that can occur during and after the service part of a Service Learning project:

Present a Service Fair.
Make a video or slide show.
Draw a picture.
Paint a mural.
Create a collage.
Make a scrapbook.
Perform a skit or play.

Write a personal journal.
Write a group journal.
Write a news article for a local newspaper or the school newsletter.
Write thank you notes to all who were involved in the project.
Write a paper about the community need that was addressed through the project.

Have informal discussions.
Invite community partners and agencies to hear about the service completed.
Make an aural presentation to the PTA.

Read stories or books about service and relate them to the service work.

For some friendly advice, go on to the next page.


Experienced service-learning organizers suggest the following:

   • Start small: Even a weeklong, very focused project can benefit all involved.

   • Let the students be the leaders: Don’t carry a load that your students should be carrying; remember that part of the goal is for them to take responsibility. The more responsibility the students take, the better.

   • Be flexible: Working with community organizations means being mindful of their schedules and of the changes they experience.

   • Closely tie the project to your curriculum: You may be able to substitute or cut back on part of your instruction if the service-learning project adequately helps students to understand the same material.

(thanks to for these suggestions)

On the next page you’ll find a project planning sheet. Very useful.


Teacher, Class __________________________________________________________

Project Name

Describe your project. If you are working with any individuals, groups, organizations, or businesses in the community, please list them.

Student Input: How (and to what degree) were students involved in selecting and/or organizing the project?

Academic Component: What curriculum goals will be achieved? How?

Service Component: How will the community benefit?

Reflective Component: In what ways will the students reflect on this experience? (journals, class discussions, etc.)

Character Component: In what ways will this project contribute to the personal development of your students? (responsibility, respectfulness, empathy, citizenship, collaborative skills, etc.)

Now, if you’d like to see a load of project examples, continue on to the next page.


Sorry about the length of this page. The first half is K-5; the bottom half is grades 6-12. Happy scrolling!


Hudson Public Schools, Massachusetts
Our service learning program begins in kindergarten with all kindergartners being involved in several efforts: a handicapped awareness program that extends into a “hop’ning” that raises funds for the March of Dimes; a student run recycling program tied to a environmental studies science unit; and a holiday toy drive linked to a social studies unit on community. Like our kindergarten, each grade develops its own initiatives. For example, a group of our first graders have an ongoing relationship with senior citizens at our local Senior Center that helps teach students basic literacy skills. Our third grades raise money and collect food for our local Food Pantry. Our fourth grades engage in an environmental field studies program that involves protecting and caring for wetlands and other natural areas near our schools. Our fifth graders work with classrooms of multiple-handicapped children to develop an awareness of and respect for diversity and are reading buddies for some of our first grade classes.

Denise Eichel, 2001 St. Mary’s County, Maryland, Lettie Marshall Dent Elementary School
Over 100 5th grade students participated in a project that provided friendship and social interaction for the veterans living at the Charlotte Hall Veteran’s Home. The students visited the veterans and invited them to events at our school, made cards, listened and learned the wealth of knowledge the veterans were able to share.

Meet a recognized community need: The veteran’s home is just 2 miles from our school. The students were aware that many veterans who reside at the home are lonely, depressed and rarely visited. They felt that since these men and women are members of our community, members who provided a service for our country, that it was our responsibility to help with their need for friendship.

Achieve curricular objectives: The students were required to write letters to the veterans. Biography is a genre that the students are required to study, therefore, they read a biography to each of the veterans. Students met many math objectives while completing a task in which they planned the Valentine Social.

Reflect through the service-learning experience: The students were encouraged to reflect on the project through class discussions, journal writing, creation of a PowerPoint presentation and displays, and newsletter articles.

Develop student responsibility: The students developed responsibility by choosing the activities we carried out and by organizing the Valentine Social.

Establish community partnerships: The principal and myself contacted the veteran’s home to plan a meeting with the events coordinator.

Equip students with knowledge and skills needed for service: Students learned about the veteran’s home and the residents.

Regina Teat, 1995 Dorchester County, Maryland, Vienna Elementary School
Last year, children designed “Winter Holiday” cards which were sold to family and friends. Profits from the boxes sold went to two local churches. This class project involved cooperative learning groups – each group was responsible for designing one card. The activity integrated math, writing, language and social studies. This year we will be doing an interdisciplinary project with the Humane Society dealing with the care and protection of animals.

Judy O’Connell, 1994 Baltimore County, Maryland, Hebbville Elementary School
1997: We have expanded our service-learning projects to include storm drain painting infused with our social science unit on the Chesapeake Bay. We also have service-learning project with the Johns Hopkins Hospital – Kids Helping Kids, and Our Daily Bread soup kitchen. We have completed our fifth year of service-learning with the Genesis ElderCare Nursing Center.

1996: As part of reading and citizenship, my 3rd grade students visit a nearby nursing home and read “Big Books,” do projects and visit with residents. Through this project, students strengthen their reading and communication skills while discovering their personal power to make positive changes in their communities.

Hannah Mossman, 2001 St. Mary’s County, Maryland, Oakville Elementary School
The nursing center in the next town needed help connecting residents to youth in an effort to brighten the resident’s days. In response to this need, our 3rd grade team selected our best 30 workers to prepare and present a play at the nursing center. The play, the “Princess and the Penguin,” culminated the students’ integrated study of weather and animals. This project also required students to use their writing, researching, and public speaking skills.

Meet a recognized community need: Our project was designed to reduce the isolation many senior citizens feel from others, especially young people. Students visited the nursing center on a Thursday morning, set up, performed and socialized with the elderly. Students shared hugs and hand shakes while the elderly commended them on their performances.

Achieve curricular objectives: The students read for all purposes and used writing to express their thoughts on the project.

Reflect through the service-learning experience: The students discussed what they thought about the project with each other and shared their thoughts with the residents. The students prompted the senior citizens with statements such as “if this… then…”.

Develop student responsibility: The student developed responsibility through studying and learning their lines and gestures at home. They created and designed their own costumes and props.

Establish community partnerships: We established community partnerships through the parents who volunteered to help with stage set up and transportation of the props. The nursing center activity director assisted with organizing the project and soliciting businesses for props. We also work with Petsmart, Denny Morgan, a retired drama and music teacher, and Crabhrochen.

Plan ahead for service-learning: We contacted the nursing center for suggestions of businesses to solicit for donations. We ordered scripts during the previous summer before school to give the student sufficient time to prepare.

Equip students with knowledge and skills needed for service: To equip the students with the skills and knowledge they needed, we studied techniques for learning lines, and for staging movement and gestures with a theatrical consultant. The students reviewed the steps involved for service-learning, preparation, action and reflection, in teams and read the outcomes we were covering, so that they could see the connection.

Judith Wilson, 2000 St. Mary’s County, Maryland, Carver Elementary School (Resource Teacher)
The fourth grade PACE students in the Maryland Service Club at Carver Elementary School in St. Mary’s County performed their last community project of the school year in early June, 2000. The students in Carver’s Program of Advanced Challenge and Enrichment (PACE) applied for a grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust under the direction of Carver’s Instructional Resource Teacher (me). Through this authentic writing activity, the students received funding to stencil “Don’t Dump” on the storm drains in the Southampton neighborhood around their school. Students learned about the importance to “Save the Bay” in this community project.

Meet a recognized need in the community: While walking to their small Title I elementary school, many students had noticed trash in the gutters near the storm drains. It was not until our club’s discussion about the environment and ways to save the Bay that the students realized that this debris along their sidewalks would eventually wash into and contaminate the Bay that was less than three miles away.

Achieve curricular objectives through service-learning: The fourth graders through their PACE Maryland Service Club applied the economic concepts they had been studying to a real world situation- an obvious environment problem in their Southampton community. They became the human resources who used capital resources (paint and stencils) to provide a service (stenciling the storm drains) for their school’s community. In doing so, they learned the importance of environmental preservation as well.

Reflect throughout service-learning experience: The students first had to analyze the potential environment danger in their community. The club’s discussion focused on the questions asked in the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s grant application. Through the authentic grant writing process, each student had a part to complete within the grant application. After providing the service, the students wrote reflections in their learning logs. One student responded, “I learned that stenciling the words “Don’t Dump” on the neighborhood’s storm drains receives good comments. I felt good when both the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the County Commissioners approved our project. I hope that other kids are not afraid to help their school or community.” Students also sent their reflections to the Chesapeake Bay Trust to fulfill their grant requirements.

Develop student responsibility: The students themselves wrote the grant to receive funding from the Chesapeake Bay Trust. The club members always run each Maryland Service Club meeting by following scripts which allow them to role play according to parliamentary procedure.

Establish community partnerships: The students along with the school’s DARE officer went out in the Southampton community to stencil storm drains. They had asked permission from the Board of Public Works as well as the County Commissioners before embarking on this project. Via this grant, they have established a working relationship with the Chesapeake Bay Trust.

Plan ahead for service-learning: Parent’s permission was obtained prior to the student service learning project. Because the club had to apply for a grant, they had to prepare an action plan for the Chesapeake Bay Trust. Students always fill out an action plan for every monthly service project.

Equip students with knowledge and skills needed for service: The club members learned how the trash is washed into the bay via storm drains and how such contaminants affect the health of the bay and its inhabitants. The students also ” live and breathe” such economic concepts as human, natural, and capital resources when providing goods and services as they perform student service-learning projects.

Banded Peak School, Bragg Creek, Alberta, Canada
“Generations Can Connect,” a different kind of technology-based service-learning project, is being piloted at the Banded Peak School in Bragg Creek, Alberta, Canada. According to William Belsey, the program’s director, Generations Can Connect has three components.

In one part, seniors bring in memorabilia and work with their student partners to capture related memories, pictures, and stories on an Internet Web site. In the second part, students and seniors together learn ways of using the Internet, such as banking, finding health information, sending and receiving e-mail, and researching genealogy. Third, an outreach program provides seniors with access to Web-TV.

The goals of the program are to provide opportunities for shared experiences between Canada’s seniors and youths, to encourage senior citizens to use the Internet, and to provide both seniors and students with greater technology-based skills.

Students at Banded Peak School engaged in a number of curriculum-based activities to prepare for their participation in the program. Those activities included the creation of A Primer for Working With Seniors, a survey of seniors about their attitudes toward and their uses of technology, establishment of e-mail accounts so that seniors and students could maintain online contact between personal visits, research into appropriate online and multimedia resources to meet seniors’ needs, the development of a Web site, Personal Memories/Community Treasures, which allows seniors and students to share their experiences with others.

During the program, the seniors had the opportunity to learn technology skills and to help teach students about the world they live in. Gordon Berry, one of the senior participants said, “I like the idea of playing a role in helping kids learn, since they are the future of the country.” Another senior, Pearl Lammie, uses her newly acquired technology skills and e-mail access to keep in touch with her children, living in widely scattered areas of the United States and Canada.

The benefits to the students were also more than academic. “The technologies involved are less important than the connections they’ve helped the participants make,” said Belsey. “At the beginning of the program, both the seniors and the teens were uneasy about working together, mostly because of stereotypes they carried about the other generation. The project has broken through that by centering on the shared learning that takes place.”

That is what Travis and Bryce learned about senior David G. Langford, for example.
“One of the things I remember David saying is that he was not totally computer illiterate,” one of the boys wrote on the Web page. “Most of the time we had to help him with the mouse because he kept hitting the wrong button. We figured he was used to Macintoshes because they have only one button on their mouse.”
“One of the things he liked best was the game we played together called Rainbow Six,” the boys added. “He said that he thought the graphics looked almost lifelike. Online banking was one of the things that Mr. Langford was interested in. He figured out how to do it quite quickly. One of the things he liked best was the way that the banking was so easy to use. He worked with it like a wiz.”

The students also met Flora MacDonald and Don Harron, the co-chairs of the Canada Coordinating Committee for the United Nations International Year of the Older Person (IYOP).
“Ms. MacDonald shared with us the message that most Canadian seniors are living very active and full lives,” the students said. “We learned that Ms. MacDonald herself speed-skates from her home to her office every day along Ottawa’s Rideau Canal. She has recently returned from world travels, which saw her climbing partway up Mount Everest and later helping the people of Central America who were ravaged by Hurricane Mitch!
“Mr. Harron,” the students wrote, “still regularly writes and performs his unique humor to audiences across the country. Indeed, he told us that some people think of seniors as the ‘telly-tubby’ generation. ‘They think that we just sit around watching the telly and get tubby!'”
As William Belsey pointed out, “These are real, engaged learning experiences that are helping to build community, not merely coding HTML.”

Voter Empowerment Workshop, Chicago, Illinois
Through the “Voter Empowerment Workshops” project, fifth grade students worked in teams of ten with a teacher-mentor to plan workshops on various political, social and economic topics related to elections. The workshops were presented to adults, which included parents, guardians, community members, etc., by the students during a special evening event. Specific workshop themes varied but included: “We the People: The Importance of Communicating with Government Officials,” “The Right to Vote: A Play about South Africa,” “Bilingual Workshop: Where are your taxes going?” and “Surf the Vote: Using the Internet to Find Out About Candidates.” The project stimulated participation in the democratic process and brought adults into the school through a meaningful forum.


Kindergarten – Students developed booklets containing activities they had done in their first year of school and felt that preschool children would like to hear about. The kindergarten children read the booklets that they had produced to preschool children so that the preschool children could better understand what kindergarten was really like.

Kindergarten – Students learning about animals went out into a nature center and took care of a butterfly nest. They then performed a play for other students and their parents dealing with what they had learned about butterflies at the nature center.

1st Grade – As part of a social studies unit first graders prepared a Thanksgiving feast, decorated tables and invited needy people from the community to participate. This feast was compared to the first Thanksgiving dinner.

1st Grade – Students designed and made placemats with a Holidays theme. These mats were laminated and presented to a local soup kitchen to be given to the people with their Holidays meals.

1st Grade – The children combined a science lesson (growing marigolds) with art (decorating pots) to produce unique gifts for senior citizens in a home adjacent to their elementary school. The students presented the gifts individually to the residents of the home.

1st Grade – Students designed and produced Halloween Trick or Treat bags for kindergarten students. The 1st graders wrote Halloween safety tips on the bags and talked with the “younger” children about safe ways to trick or treat.

2nd Grade –Math students studying symmetry designed valentines and presented the valentines to a local adult foster care home.

2nd Grade – As part of Writing Month and a Book-It program the students wrote and drew pictures about their favorite books on grocery bags. They gave the finished bags to the grocery store, which used the bags to pack shoppers’ groceries. This project worked on students reading and writing skills, school publicity, encouraging reading, and hopefully brightened a shopper’s day.

2nd Grade – As part of the social studies curriculum that dealt with learning about communities’, students implemented a project to assist their local library. The students collected soda cans for their deposit that was then donated to the children’s section of the library to enhance the number of books and the space where they are stored and read.

3rd Grade – Science and social studies students studying the 3 R’s (recycle, reduce, and reuse) made posters for their room. They eventually expanded the use of their posters to the halls in the school and eventually to store fronts downtown.

3rd Grade – Math and language arts students studying symmetry and reading about veterans made valentine cards and presented them to a local veteran’s hospital.

3rd Grade – Students helped the local community library by designing and making new book covers for children’s books in the library. Each student read the book and wrote a brief summary of the book as well as producing the new cover.

3rd Grade – Students made an “ABC” Big Animal Book with illustrations which was then shared with first graders. Individual students used their book to help the younger students master the words.

4th Grade – Students established a Kids for Saving the Earth Club. This came about as a result of the environmental studies portion of the academic curriculum. Kids wrote letters to children who lived in a rain forest. They started a recycling program in the school and petitioned the local council to make recycling mandatory in their community.

4th Grade – Students made place mats as part of their art time and took them to the hospital to be placed on meal trays at Halloween.

5th Grade – Students learned to bake Christmas gingerbread cookies and made art projects gifts for the local seniors and presented their gifts to the seniors at a program they developed themselves.

5th Grade – Students developed questions that were asked at the local “Foods with Friends” gathering. The students interviewed the seniors to learn about their community and then put on a skit for the seniors to show them what they had learned. They followed up with decorated “Thank You” cards to show their appreciation.


Catherine Gistedt, 1997 Anne Arundel County, Maryland, Marley Middle School (Science)
Students learn how to determine acceptable water quality of our environment using surveys, observations, and test kits. They then test, analyze and observe wildlife at Marley Creek in our community to determine a plan of action to improve the water quality or the wildlife habitat for this local creek.

Mary Keene, 2001 Baltimore County, Maryland, Hereford Middle School
“Pennies for Pasta” – The entire school raised money for Leukemia in partnership with the Olive Garden and the Leukemia Society. Each homeroom had a representative that collected and counted. The community was encouraged to donate also, and students were asked to try to earn money for the collection in some manner. The collection took place over two weeks. Students raised over $7,000.00.

Meet a recognized community need: The Hereford School Community learned about the work of the Leukemia Society and how they could help in many activities.

Achieve curricular objectives: Each content leader contributed to a phase of this activity and linked it to their curriculum.

Reflect through the service-learning experience: Students talked during counting sessions about their experiences and daily announcements/reflections on the success of the project included the whole school.

Develop student responsibility: Each homeroom selected a representative who collected the money.

Establish community partnerships: The project was advertised by the Olive Garden and the Leukemia Society to the schools.

Plan ahead for service-learning: The project was planned jointly with homeroom teachers and the student council.

Equip students with knowledge and skills needed for service: Student Council members trained the homeroom representatives.

Linda D. Bailey, 2000 Calvert County, Maryland, Windy Hill Middle School(Science)
My most memorable experience engaging students in service-learning is my aluminum can recycling drive. The need that we met during this drive was to reduce the amount of aluminum waste in our landfills. We met this need by collecting aluminum cans and recycling them at the local recycling center. We decided that we would hold a contest among the first period classes of my school. The class that brought in the most cans by weight would win a juice and doughnut party to recognize and celebrate their success. The money that remained after funding the party was given to the local homeless shelter.

I prepared the students for this project by informing them that as a class, they were responsible for completing a major activity that would help our community. The first step of this project was to determine the need that we wanted to meet. As a class, we investigated several community problems and evaluated how we could tackle the problems in the classroom. We studied, discussed, and did small projects/activities involving recycling, fire departments, nursing homes, the environment, and homelessness. Students reported to the class on the various needs of their community. The students then choose the theme of recycling for their big project. Next, the students were engaged in designing a plan for the project. We devised multiple solutions and chose the best plan of action. We had to organize the ideas to form a logical plan that would work. We determined what materials were needed and decided how to obtain them. It was decided that it would be best to divide the class into groups to meet the needs of the project. Through brainstorming and voting, we decided that we needed groups to perform the following functions:

Overall leadership and direction Communication of the plan through poster advertisements and announcements Education of the student body about the need for recycling through announcements and posters Collection of the cans Measurement and calculation of the results.

A table was made to display the roles and the members of each group. Students then broke into the groups. They worked to reach group agreement and complete their part of the project. Prior to the day of collection, groups made and hung up posters to advertise the contest and to educate the school about recycling. Students made announcements over the intercom and during the lunch shifts. They distributed collection bags and tags to each teacher. On the day of the drive, students collected the bags from each first period class, weighed the cans, recorded the results, and placed the cans into the delivery truck for recycling. The winner of the drive was announced the next day during the morning announcements.

Students were completely responsible for the success or failure of this project. My role was mainly a facilitator. They chose the project and listed the requirements as a whole group. Their subgroups were responsible for meeting the goals of their group. They had to decide how to do the work and then complete the work. Lessons were learned from failures as well as successes.

We met several curricular objectives with this project. The students investigated a problem, developed multiple solutions, designed a plan by organizing information and ideas, communicated their plan through writing and public speaking, sequenced events, measured and calculated results, interpreted data, constructed a table, and worked in learning groups to complete a task. All of these skills are listed as needed skills for MSPAP success.

I reflected with the student throughout the project. As a group, we discussed the status of the project and subprojects. We listed the problems that were being encountered and worked as a group to fix them. We made note of each problem for discussion at the end of the project. At the end, we discussed what we could have done differently to avoid some of the problems. We also wrote about what each student could do in the future to maintain recycling in their homes and their community.

Through this project, we developed two important community ties. The recycling center where we took the cans is still used by my school today to recycle metal. We now, as an ongoing recycling activity, recycle can tabs at this center and donate the money to our homeless shelter. We have also developed a relationship with our homeless shelter. Throughout the years, we have sent students to them to clean up their storage areas. We have donated money and done school-wide drives to provide school supplies and necessities for the homeless children.

Tamara Sasscer, 2001 Calvert County, Maryland, Southern Middle School
20 8th grade math students planted a butterfly garden in the school courtyard. The students found the area of the courtyard and created scale drawings to indicate where to plant the plants. We were aiming to beautify the school grounds.

Meet a recognized community need: The project helped to raise moral in the students and staff of Southern Middle School and engender school and community pride in an effort to decrease vandalism and related behaviors.

Achieve curricular objectives: We incorporated area, perimeter, and scale drawings into the project.

Reflect through the service-learning experience: We discussed reasons why we should plant a butterfly garden. When it was finished, the students invited each class to a picnic in the improved courtyard.

Develop student responsibility: The students were responsible for deciding where to place the plants in the courtyard. They were also responsible for digging the holes, planting, and maintaining the courtyard.

Establish community partnerships: We established community partnerships with Chespax, who donated the plants, and we obtained shovels from Lowe’s Home Improvement store.

Plan ahead for service-learning: The principal of Southern Middle School informed me of the school’s beautification money. I planned the concepts that needed to be taught to prepare for the project.

Equip students with knowledge and skills needed for service: As a class, we reviewed how to find area and perimeter and discussed scale drawings.

LaNika Anthony, 1999 Prince George’s County, Maryland, Charles Carroll Middle School (English)
I sponsor after-school environment awareness programs and work with students to create picture books for special education students. I also coordinate our school’s recycling program and Buddy Program.

Jerry Pace, Britton’s Neck High School, Marion School District Four, South Carolina
Service-learning has had a significant impact on the school system and community around Britton’s Neck. Last year, a group of high school students conducted a needs assessment and found a rural fire department was needed. Teachers throughout the K-12 system integrated a safety curriculum into core academic courses. After securing property from a community member, the students built a fire department as a service project. As a result, the property around the fire department has been reclassified and the cost of homeowner’s insurance has gone down. The real impact, however, says, Marion 4 Superintendent Milt Marley, “is the manner in which service-learning has reconnected our youth to the community and has actively engaged our young people in the learning process.”

Spring Valley High School, Service-Learning Coordinator: Beverly Hiott
“Arriba Corazones” is a service-learning project started by Spring Valley High School Spanish students in 1996. Each semester, students work in teams to plan and implement service activities that benefit local Hispanic populations. Students learn about the needs of migrant families, organize into teams and draft their project proposals in Spanish. They draft flyers and solicitation letters, ask businesses for services or donations and conduct fundraisers. Students also plan and prepare healthy meals for 60-80 people prior to each visit with the families. Each project culminates in a festive gathering, complete with gifts, games, worship, dinner and sharing among students and migrant families. Students are immersed in the language and culture. They also keep journals and write essays about their work, what they are learning and how their activities affect themselves and others. Writings are part of portfolios and presentations that students must complete at the end of each project phase.

Powers High School, Powers, Oregon, Superintendent: Don Grotting
“Bat Project”: Powers High School students build and place bat houses in the community to provide suitable habitat and enhance population growth. Students develop valuable research skills while learning about the biological and physiological make-up of different species and the beneficial aspects of bat populations. The students are currently writing an article for Bat Conservation Magazine.

Crook County High School, Prineville, Oregon, Curriculum director: Dennis Kostelecky
“Have Math, Will Travel”: Crook County High School students used their math skills to measure the amount of water displaced in the Ochoco Dam due to soil erosion from flooding. Students gathered data, converted data into equations, developed charts and graphs illustrating the impact of erosion on the water levels, and gave presentations on their findings.

White River High School, Buckley, Washington
Service-learning helped students in Buckley, Washington, bring the Chinook King Salmon back from near extinction. Through a program called “Long Live the King!” students conducted DNA fingerprinting using gel electropheresis equipment and employed Calculator-Based Laboratory Systems for stream monitoring to help preserve the endangered fish. Related class activities included writing and producing a biannual newsletter informing the community about the health and history of local waters, presenting research results to the Buckley City Council, and working as salmon experts with youngsters at the Mountain Meadows Elementary School. While helping save the King, students in the General Science classes found new meaning in school – feeling that they did something significant. And they did. In the White River, less than a 15-minute walk from the school, the Chinook was near extinction 10 years ago. The White River Salmon Hatchery now records almost 1,000 Kings returning every year.

Malcolm Shabazz City High School, Madison, Wisconsin
Service-learning enabled Shabazz students to engage with hundreds of youth and adults at the local, national and international levels. Through one such project, English students interviewed local immigrants who escaped or were exiled from their homelands. Students researched areas of the world from which their neighbors fled and wrote letters to public officials advocating for human rights and an end to the violence that threatens refugees. Motivation, academic ability, communication skills, leadership and compassion increased through various service-learning projects.

Academy for Science and Foreign Language, Huntsville, Alabama
Through service-learning, students from Huntsville, Alabama, rewrote African-American history. Students first researched 17th Century African-American history and culture, and documented and commemorated African-American contributions to Huntsville. In doing so, students strengthened their communication skills through interviews and preparing biographical sketches; used math and science skills to orient, identify vegetation, determine and analyze environmental changes; wrote their own stories; and developed computer-generated lesson plans and multimedia kits to accompany the stories. What started out as a school-based project to document the contributions of 19th century African-Americans, expanded into a community-wide effort that resulted in greater understanding, and appreciation and respect for cultural differences and contributions.

Sharon Public Schools, Sharon, Massachusetts
Sharon Public School students used service-learning to understand the inner workings of, and issues that affect, the communities in which they live. Through one project, third grade students divided into five groups to research various elements of their community: housing, government, communication, environment and food. By studying these areas and visiting local sites, students learned about the interdependency and relationships between business, government and private citizens. Students then applied what they learned and built their own model community called “Alternative Town.” At the end of the school year, the students presented a replica of their model community.

Another project involved eighth grade students using the election process as a context for writing editorials about state and national political issues. High school writing mentors reviewed the editorials, which were sent to newspapers. A panel of editorial writers from state and local newspapers discussed editorial writing with the students.

Phenix City Schools, Phenix City, Alabama
Through service-learning, students in Phenix City Schools helped to raise awareness among members of the community around important health issues. Their efforts were made possible through a partnership between the Healthcare Science and Technology (HST) Department and the western district medical/dental associations, whereby preventative health skills, including hand washing and oral hygiene, were provided to all kindergarten, first grade and special education students in the Phenix City School System. The students developed and prepared all materials used in their teaching programs, and provided educational programs on diabetes (Type I and Type II). In addition, they offered blood sugar screenings to the community. Fund-raising for the Diabetes Association provided students another opportunity to help with the research of this deadly disease. This project enabled students to develop leadership abilities while using skills and knowledge from their own classroom experiences. Students also worked directly with people of all ages, races, ethnic groups, abilities and disabilities, genders, and economic backgrounds.

John Marshall Middle School, Long Beach, California
At John Marshall Middle School, students improved their understanding and appreciation of cultural differences through service-learning. As “Diversity Ambassadors,” students trained in peer mediation, cultural diversity, tolerance and conflict resolution conducted workshops on these issues for fellow students and hosted an assembly on school violence in partnership with the Long Beach Police Department’s Gang Unit. A program that grew from an ad hoc problem-solving approach to a mechanism for linking classroom curriculum with service, Marshall Middle School teachers and students credit the Diversity Ambassadors with improving the school climate. By bringing together students of different ethnic backgrounds to address their differences and solve their problems outright, the school helped students create tools for communicating across racial and ethnic barriers, and serve one another by delivering resolution to immediate and pressing situations. As one student observed, “I guess arguments will come up, but we’ll have the skills to help solve the problems.”

Beard Alternative School,Syracuse, New York
Service-learning afforded at-risk youth attending the Beard Alternative School with the opportunity to address important community issues such as hunger, domestic violence, the criminal justice system, racism and gender issues. In partnership with the Center for Community Alternatives, students worked with Communities United to Rebuild Neighborhoods – a grassroots community group – to construct and maintain a flower and vegetable garden on the city’s southwest side. The students also published a bi-annual student newspaper (Beard News) that dealt with topics relevant to their lives. In addition to their service projects, students participated in classroom learning experiences that drew upon their volunteer activities. Linking education with community experiences increased students’ participation and overall commitment to school, and offered a useful tool to help them transition to the world of work.

Here are some excellent sources for project ideas
(including many of the projects on this page):

Maryland Student Service Alliance

Augsburg College (Minneapolis) Service Learning Teacher’s Guide

Service-Learning Project Profiles (Wisconsin Dept. of Ed.)

Learning In Deed

That’s it for now. Come back soon for additions and updates to this manual.