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Service, Learning and Community

Service-learning, or the idea that students should--as a part of their academic plan--contribute volunteer time and efforts in support of the community in which they are living and learning, is an old idea that's gaining renewed support (check out the history of service learning).

The idea that colleges are living, breathing, contributing participants in the community in which they are located has at its very foundation the concept of equity and social justice. Some of the positive features associated with service-learning are that it provides students with:Students also comment that service-learning programs and projects provide them with an outlet to act on their personal beliefs about equity, social change and social justice. Service-learning is reported as an invaluable personal growth experience. Through their volunteer committments, students gain a greater understanding of economic, political, and cultural structures in society and how these structure effect and impact individual lives, families, and communities.

But, service-learning programs and projects may also have a negative impact. Students attending colleges and universities where such programs and projects are integrated fully into the curriculum (i.e. community "service" is mandated for either a grade or credit) may attach no personal value whatsoever to these programs and projects except for that associated with the grade or credit received for completion. Students whose service is conscripted may feel put-upon; thus where the idea is to encourage students to give back to the community because they care about or value their community, students may instead develop the idea that the community is somehow "using" them to get things done that no one else wants to do.

If you are interested in increasing your connections with the greater community in which you live and learn, visit the service-learning office on your college or university campus. If your campus isn't currently part of the service-learning trend, check out the National Service Learning Clearinghouse, a project of Learn and Serve America, for ideas, information, and resources for incorporating service into your academic plan.

Want to read more about this topic? Take a look at Service Learning: From Classroom To Community To Career by Marie Watkins and Linda Braun (2005). Its a great resource for students and educators alike!

Until next time!

Lynn Byrne

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