What if we changed the way we think about service learning, community service, and work-based learning?
GUEST COLUMN | by Michele Pitman
Students across the U.S. are encouraged to and sometimes required to “go into the community to serve others.” In some private schools, students carry the mission of the school into the community. And in public schools, service is a way students gain experience for college and job applications.
‘Can shifting the idea of going into the community into being an active participant in the community provide connectedness and belonging students are yearning for?’
In all instances, students volunteer, bring back their findings, and report the impact on themselves and others.
Looking at this in a New Way
After years of speaking with service leaders, students, and organizations—and watching their interactions—I am looking at this in a new way. What if we changed the way we think about community service, service learning, and work-based learning?
The shift in thinking is this:
Students are the community, the projects, and the work.
They don’t “go into” the community.
When tasking students to go into their communities to serve, it is creating a barrier. There is no line that separates “in community” and “outside of the community” — but it is being positioned that way. Students are the community, so their participation enhances or detracts from their experiences.
When shifting the thought process to students as the community, it then begs another question:
Are students active participants in their community?
Not, “are they going out into the community to serve?” but are they active members. This can be their neighborhood, their church, their sports teams, their classroom, their group of friends, etc.
Erasing the Line
The goal here is to erase the line between a student’s daily bubble and the community. When reframing their position as community members, a whole new mindset emerges through volunteerism and work.
When they participate, they are connected, their ideas are heard, and they have a better understanding of what is happening around them. They can influence change. They can feel a part of something bigger than themselves. They gain new perspectives.
When they are not active or connected, then they don’t feel heard, they don’t understand; their relationships are narrow. It furthers feelings of isolation versus inclusion.
Technology, Tracking, and Metrics
Yes, schools and districts track hours and experiences and will continue to do that.
In addition to that, assuming that students are the community and are actively immersed, can levels of contentment in these students be measured along with the social capital these students have as well as increased mental health?
Can shifting the idea of going into the community into being an active participant in the community provide connectedness and belonging students are yearning for?
Michele Pitman is founder and CEO of intelliVOL, maker of x2VOL, a leading community service and work-based learning tracking and reporting platform in K-12.