Service learning goes beyond volunteering or fundraising. It has explicit learning objectives and involves real-world skills and critical analysis. As service learning has taken root in schools and afterschool programs, its primary focus has been local and national.
However, examining global issues can motivate a greater understanding of and involvement in local issues, and vice versa. If you already have a service component to your program, look for the global implications of the issues you already address. Or, help youth identify causes that are inherently global, such as protecting the environment, rebuilding after natural disasters, assisting those in poverty, or expanding educational opportunity, and create local projects that take into account broad perspectives and implications.
Global learning programs can help youth connect local issues that concern them with the people, communities, and countries facing the same issues. Give participants the chance to consider how they want to make a difference in the world, and provide background knowledge on issues that are appropriate in order to ground the learning and help them make informed choices.
It is also important to provide structure, focus, and clear learning objectives for knowledge acquisition as young people embark on international service projects. Remind students always to respect the people and causes you are taking on. Youth should see themselves not as heroes who set out to rescue a victim, but as citizens who share an equal part in the challenges and responsibilities of a global age.
Here are some steps to get started:
Organize committees and groups to work on project planning, and create an oversight structure that considers which decisions youth can make and which adults must make. Use the Guidelines document linked above as a planning tool.
Identify the kinds of skills that will make young people effective agents of change. As participants help to structure service learning projects, encourage them to consider the full scope of their involvement by asking the following questions:
Follow-up and Reflection
Reflection is a critical piece of any service learning initiative – both during the project and afterwards. It also gives students the opportunity to practice their research, writing, presentation, and technology skills. Other students in the school, in turn, will be able to learn more about global challenges. Consider some of these activities for students:
Service Learning in Action
One example of service learning is the Building with Books program at Marble High School for International Studies in the Bronx, New York. This elective course encourages students to investigate contemporary issues, such as sustainability, health, human migration, and the environment, from multiple perspectives, while fulfilling core global history and geography curriculum requirements. Students raise money by participating in related service-learning projects. The money raised—and the new knowledge and experiences—are put towards a culminating trip to a developing country where they help build a school.
At Crooked Creek Elementary in Indiana, each grade level selects a country to study throughout the school year, and then designs an international product, creating a class business through which it advertises and sells the product. The annual Global Marketplace is the culminating event for the yearlong study. Parents, community members, students, and staff are invited to participate. Students donate their profits to global philanthropic causes, for example: the AIDS relief project in Eldoret, Kenya; the Inuit schools in Canada; Food for the Poor in Haiti; and an initiative to purchase bicycles for students in remote Mexican villages so they can attend school.
Resources to Help You Get StartedSee Barbara Lewis' book, The Teen Guide to Global Action: How to Connect with Others (Near & Far) to Create Social Change. (Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing, 2008.) Link
These organizations offer assistance on
issues ranging from effective practices to project ideas to curriculum
resources to teacher training and professional development:
National Service-Learning Partnership
The National Service-Learning Partnership is a leadership organization that works with its 7,300 individual and organizational members to promote and strengthen service learning at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. On the site can be found policy, advocacy, and teaching resources as well as links to other national service learning organizations.
National Service-Learning Clearinghouse
The National Service-Learning Clearinghouse serves as an online library and resource center for service learning in kindergarten through twelfth grade, higher education, community-based initiatives, and tribal programs. Amongst other features, the site offers sample service-learning curricula, academic research on the impact of service-learning, assessment and evaluation tools, links to funding sources, and a program directory.
National Service-Learning Exchange
The National Service-Learning Exchange supports quality service-learning programs in schools, colleges and universities, and community organizations by linking staff and peer mentors with individuals and groups for one-on-one assistance. Mentors can lend their own expertise on effective service-learning practices, curricula, resources, and training opportunities.
Corporation for National and Community Service
The Corporation for National and Community Service was created by Congress in 1993 to expand opportunities for service for people of all ages and backgrounds through Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America. The website provides general resources on service-learning programs as well as specific information on grants.
Students in Service to America
Students in Service to America is a site sponsored by the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse that provides general background information on service-learning as well as specific tools and resources geared more towards educators or program developers. The resources are broken down in to the following subcategories: getting started/toolkits, finding help, civic and character education links, national organizations that work with youth, after-school programs, nonprofit service clubs and organizations, and recognition programs.
The organizations listed above are good sources for project ideas and can offer suggestions for ways to form partnerships with the local community. In addition, the following organizations all offer internationally oriented service opportunities or serve as information clearinghouses for other organizations that do implement such programs.
Author: Heather Singmaster. Deborah Agrin contributed to this story.
What has been your school's experience in service learning? Were there local-global connections? Please share!