Service learning to keep at-risk youth in school

John Bridgeland, of Civic Enterprises, discussed their recent report Engaged for Success which highlights the importance of “service learning” in preventing at-risk youth from dropping out of school.

(I must disclose my biases: I was the Senate policy point person on the enactment of the National Service Trust Act of 1993 that created AmeriCorps, and worked for Senator Kennedy. Senator Kennedy, understandably was an ardent advocate of service learning, which as the name implies combines service and learning and can be used for students from kindergarten through college. For example, youth can monitor pollution in a local stream, thereby learning about scientific measurement or interview elderly shut-ins about their youth and learn about American history in the process. Findings show that youth learn far more when there is an educational “pull”, in other words when the learning is required for a task they want to do, than the traditional educational “push” model that tells youth to learn some skill under the expectation that they’ll need it down the road for an important task.)

Civic Enterprises’ research shows a mismatch between interest in service learning and availability of programs. Notably: “Eighty-two percent of all service-learning students said their view of school improved because of their service-learning classes, and 77 percent said that service learning had a big effect on motivating them to work hard. Furthermore, 64 percent of service-learning students claimed that service learning would have a fairly or very big effect on keeping them from dropping out of school.” But, “[a]lthough high-quality service-learning programs are cropping up across the nation, such programs are still unjustifiably rare. Eighty-three percent of students said that if their school offered it, they would enroll in a service-learning program. Yet only 16 percent of all students, and only 8 percent of students at low- performing schools, reported that their school offered service learning. All too often students do not have access to, or do not even know about, such programs offered by their schools.”

Civic Enterprises’ findings are also summarized in John Bridgeland’s Op-ed “The key to keeping teens in school” (Christian Science Monitor, 4/15/08) and his PowerPoint presentation of their findings.

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One response to “Service learning to keep at-risk youth in school

  1. I agree that if you engage students in a service program they will start to do better in school. Service gives youth a sense of purpose and it may spark a reason to live and do better in school. Dropping out of school is a choice and students need to feel what service is like so they can understand the importance of education, especially is students serve people who dropped out of school.

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