Declaring that Americans want their children well-versed in civic responsibility as well as in academics, a newly formed committee is urging schools to make service learning a part of every child’s education.
The National Commission on Service Learning, which held its first meeting in Washington last week, was formed on the belief that students can strengthen their academic skills, enhance their confidence, prepare themselves for the workforce, and forge a commitment to civic participation—all by engaging in meaningful community work.
Former U.S. Sen. John Glenn of Ohio, who chairs the commission, welcomed the increasing popularity of service learning, citing one study that found 2.9 million high school students engaged in such programs last year, compared with 81,000 in 1984. Mr. Glenn said he hoped the new commission could persuade all schools to offer service opportunities that are linked to the curriculum.
“Service learning is making the community your classroom,” he said in an interview. “When kids see that the things they study in school really have an application out there—whether it’s cleaning up polluted water or helping in a [nursing home]—they begin to see the relevance of it.”
The new commission also unveiled a new study showing that nine in 10 of 1,013 Americans surveyed in September support students’ application of classroom learning to community projects. The commission plans to research best practices and produce recommendations on how to include more students in service learning.
The John Glenn Institute for Public Service and Public Policy at Ohio State University and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation created and support the commission, which will have offices in Newton, Mass. The panel is one of four parts of the Battle Creek, Mich.-based foundation’s four-year, $13 million “Learning in Deed” initiative, which is designed to encourage schools to start service-learning programs.
A cross section of representatives from education, government, business, and citizen- advocacy groups will serve on the 19-member commission. Members include Arlene Ackerman, the superintendent of the San Francisco schools; Gov. Jim Geringer of Wyoming; former U.S. Sen. Harris Wofford of Pennsylvania, currently the chief executive officer of the Corporation for National Service; and Craig R. Barrett, the president and CEO of Intel Corp. The panel also includes a middle school student and a college student.
A version of this article appeared in the December 13, 2000 edition of Education Week as Glenn Heads Commission On Service