To the Editor:
Thank you for shining a spotlight on service learning in the first-person piece by San Francisco teacher Kyle Redford (“How Can We Make Service Learning Less Self-Serving?,” Education Week Teacher, Feb. 28, 2017).
Redford shares her concern that too often service-learning efforts organized with community partners benefit the students but not the partners themselves. She worries that “community organizations twist themselves into a knot so that they can serve us,” instead of the students serving the partners.
At the Service Learning Project, a New York City-based civic-engagement program, our students often work closely with community organizations to address social problems the students have chosen to help solve. As Redford advises, our discussions with community organizations always begin with the question, “What do you need?”
By inquiring about existing advocacy efforts that our students can help advance, we ensure they are having a real impact on their communities. They are building important academic skills, as is intended through service learning, but they are doing so while becoming leaders in their schools and active participants in community problem-solving.
A group of 3rd graders in Brownsville, N.Y., for example, met recently with the New York City-based advocacy group Care for the Homeless. The students learned about the group’s request for discretionary funding from the city council. As a result, the students are writing letters to their local council members and organizing a petition drive in support of the group’s budget proposal. They are learning firsthand how to be change-makers in their community, while also helping advance a critical initiative on behalf of a community partner.
The Service Learning Project
A version of this article appeared in the April 19, 2017 edition of Education Week as When It Comes to Service Learning, Students Are Community Partners