PDS has had a longtime commitment to service learning and getting involved to make a difference. I was pleased to find these photos deep in the archives. The first one is from 1962-1963 and shows children and a rescued squirrel and the others show PDS volunteers involved in a horse rescue project in 1999.
This past year high school science teacher Tanya Vinogradov taught a class in Wildlife Rehabilitation and , in a separate activity acompanied students to work at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary. Some things stay the same.
Only about a third of schools have a service learning as part of their program – down from about fifty per cent in 1999. Motives for including community service as a regular aspect of student life in schools vary. They often include doing good and character development. We’ve known for some time that active participation in community service leads to improved academic achievement but that is rarely an explicit purpose. There’s another aspect that is key: service learning can prepares students to take a active role as a citizen and that, of course, is vital in a democracy. It can do this by expanding student understanding of social, environmental and political issues and the importance of civic action and advocacy in effecting change and solving problems.
Recent research has have addressed service learning and students’ commitment to civic participation read Service Learning and Civic Participation from ASCD.
Every community faces significant issues that don’t have simple solutions, from conserving water to providing adequate support for the elderly, and even changing school policies. Bringing these issues into the classroom motivates students to grapple with tough challenges.
Reading about democracy and how government works are poor substitutes for active participation in civic decision making. At its best, service learning can provide opportunities for this kind of participation.