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Since the late 1980’s, there has been a strong move by some states and school districts to require community service for graduation or at least offer community service as a credit course toward graduation.

Service-Learning – learning about a subject through direct involvement in the community and school activities – it not a new concept, the graduation requirement has given it a new momentum.  Many schools, however, do not have the time or resources to establish viable Service-Learning activities for their students.

Teens Against Tobacco Use (T.A.T.U.) is an excellent vehicle for a school or community-based service learning project.  It meets all of the core elements and principles of good practice for combining service and learning.  Though service-learning is most often discussed in the context of a school environment, it is a useful strategy as well for programs not based in schools.

Core Elements of Effective Service Learning Activities

Service Learning is a method:

Where students learn and develop through active participation in thoughtfully organized service experiences that meet actual community needs and that are coordinated in collaboration with the school and community;
That is integrated into the student’s academic curriculum or provides structured time for a student to think, talk or write about what he or she did and saw during the actual service activity;
That enhances what is taught in school by extending student learning beyond the classroom and into the community;
That helps to foster the development of caring for others; and
That enables all of the participants to be winners.

Impact and Effect of Service-Learning

When Service-Learning programs are thoughtfully designed and incorporate the key elements noted above, they provide strong links between schools and community and productive ways for youth to connect with adults and peers.

Benefits for Students

Personal Growth – Students earn a sense of empowerment by engaging in community where they are needed, valued and respected, and make real contributions.
Citizenship – Students learn that citizenship requires them to activity participate in community life.
Academic Skills – They learn the relevance of academic subject matter from science and mathematics to the social sciences and humanities.
Intellectual Development – Students learn to connect the classroom experience with life in the community.  Students reflect on important moral and ethical issues.
Personal Growth and Development – Students learn about commitment.
Social Growth and Development – Students learn how to work with diverse groups of people: adults and peers from different backgrounds and age groups.
Career Education – Students directly experience the world of work.

Benefits for Schools

Addresses many key education reform objectives
Contributes to reform-based teaching strategies such as cooperative learning and thematic teaching
Encourages higher level thinking skills and student citizenship
Encourages meaningful parental involvement in schools
Develops increased public support for schools as community members see students contributing to the community

Benefits to the Community

Contributes to community development and renewal
Provides an infusion of creativity and enthusiasm from participating youth
Helps students become invested in their communities as community-minded citizens
As youth contribute to the common good through service, they are seen as one of the community’s greatest resources.

Other Benefits

Reflects common cultural values
Emphasizes each student’s capacities
Builds capacity for action
Enlarges perspective
Reinforces positive identity
Promotes humane values
Engages learners and encourages educational excellence
Perform valuable service