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Coalition Created To Promote Youth Service in Reform Efforts

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Some 30 youth-service advocates and the Council of Chief State School Officers have joined in creating a coalition that aims to give school-based service learning a "stronger voice'' and insure its full integration into the education-reform movement.

The purpose of the new Alliance for Service Learning in Education Reform "is to build a bridge between two large national forces: education reform and educational improvement and national service,'' said Jim Kielsmeier, the president of the National Youth Leadership Council and an alliance member.

Mr. Kielsmeier said he sees service learning "as a nexus, a bridge between these two forces,'' and views the alliance as a kind of "networking hub.''

The alliance was formed last month but has yet to complete work on an organizational structure or to fund a budget.

As one of its goals, the alliance hopes to influence the 1993 Congressional reauthorizations of both the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the National and Community Service Act.

In such legislation, the group wants to see K-12 service learning included as a method of "best practice'' for education reform, said Barbara Gomez, the director of the service-learning project at the state school chiefs' council and the coordinator-facilitator for the new alliance.

How active a part the Clinton Administration will play on K-12 service issues is unclear. During his campaign, the President-elect emphasized his plan that would allow college graduates to repay federal student loans through community-service jobs.

'Critical' Timing

Creation of the alliance stemmed from discussions at the National Youth Leadership Council's National Service Learning Conference in April, where participants realized that "we needed to come together around this issue'' Ms. Gomez said.

The impending reauthorization of the E.S.E.A. "added to our sense of urgency,'' she said.

Youth-service advocates interested in the idea met twice more, most recently last month, when the decision was made to form the alliance.

But the desire for such action goes back even further.

Ms. Gomez said she and others had been striving for the past five years to push the idea of experiential education's "usefulness as a major component of education reform.''

For the alliance to be formed and begin to act now is important, Mr. Kielsmeier added.

"The timing is really critical,'' he said, because federal grants specifically for K-12 service learning were disbursed for the first time last spring under the National and Community Service Act of 1990.

The federal Commission on National and Community Service in June awarded several types of grants for youth service totaling $63.1 million. School-based projects drew $16.3 million from their own grant category, known as Serve-America. (See Education Week, June 17, 1992.)

That funding increases "the need for more professional exchange, collaboration, and the development of standards to encourage and support high-quality practice,'' according to a document prepared by the service-learning alliance.

The alliance will work to help insure that service-learning programs that are implemented are of high quality, organizers said.

If service learning is not done thoughtfully and carefully, Ms. Gomez said, it will not produce the academic and social benefits that its advocates cite in calling for its inclusion in the reform movement.

"I clearly see [service learning] as education,'' she said. "Service is important, but it's not the focus. Education, learning is the focus.''

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