Moving beyond traditional community outreach, service learning offers a real-world education with many of the same benefits as project learning.

"We know that service learning can deliver...academic achievement, civic responsibility, and personal development." -Jim Kielsmeier, founder and CEO of the National Youth Leadership Council

Moving beyond traditional community outreach, service learning offers a real-world education with many of the same benefits as project learning. Service learning is powerful because it focuses on the specific needs of the community, fosters collaboration, encourages active participation and respects diversity.

For decades, educators have shared stories revealing the transformative effect service learning has had on their students. Recent research confirms what educators already knew: service learning consistently benefits social and emotional growth, academic outcomes and career planning.

Encouraging students to identify a particular need or problem to address is one of the best ways to initiate service learning in afterschool programs. Discussing current events can be particularly helpful for identifying needs that are relevant to your community. Below are some additional considerations for afterschool educators hoping to promote student learning through service:

  • Involve students in decision making and project design: Ask your students a variety of questions related to their project, such as “What’s the purpose of our project?” “Who will benefit?” and “What are some concrete steps we must take?” Your students will feel a sense of ownership and become fully invested in the success of their project.
  • Start small and local: If your program is new to service learning, you may want to begin with a small two-week project focusing on a specific local challenge. Consider the needs of your school, the disadvantaged in your community and the environment. Talk with your students about making a difference close to home.
  • Make learning visible: Use service learning projects as content for reinforcing and developing new academic skills. Even small projects, such as a local food drive, can have important curricular tie-ins. Consider how your project supports reading, writing and math, as well as a variety of 21st-century skills, and make those connections immediately apparent to students.

By combining service and learning, afterschool programs can offer students a glimpse of the bigger world, can develop their compassion, and even can spark new interests that will affect academic and career success for years to come.