Guest Author - Valerie Shoopman
You may think of service-learning as non-disabled students, teachers, and volunteers helping students and children with disabilities. However, there is a new twist on service-learning that offers valuable opportunities for the disabled child to learn life-long skills while growing and stretching individually as a person.
When the student with disabilities is the one giving to others, a miracle of sorts takes place. They learn quicker with hands-on experience, and learn acceptance and self-respect for the strengths and abilities they do possess.
In this type of service-learning, students engage in some form of community service while meeting their IEP and/or academic goals. This gives students with disabilities a fantastic opportunity to improve their social skills, which are usually lacking just because of a lack of social opportunities to practice. They can also learn valuable skills that can help them transition into jobs after graduation. Some students, for the first time, learn what it is like to give back to others. Usually, they are always on the receiving end of the giving process. This makes them feel valuable and gives their self-worth a valuable shot in the arm.
A service-learning project reminds me in a lot of ways of an Eagle project for Boy Scouts. A service learning project should have the youth involved reflecting, planning, and preparing for the project. It should also make a meaningful contribution to the community, be supported by the school, and connect the school and the community in new and positive ways.
Some service-learning project ideas might be to make cards for long-term hospital patients. The students could meet IEP writing goals while pre-writing, drafting, proofing, and revising the final output for the cards. Needless to say the hospital patients would be thrilled.
Students could collect toys for Toys for Tots or another similar organization. When collecting the toys, you could set budgets, define categories and organize the toys according to age and ability.
Students could also read books and record them for play-back to younger students, for the blind, or for older persons no longer able to read themselves.
The school I work at, Horizon Academy, has a fantastic service learning project where students work daily with service dogs to train them to help disabled and wheel-chair bound folks. It is called Paws for Freedom. The students train the dogs how to turn on light switches, open doors, snuggle in laps, and heel while walking beside a wheel chair.
Another tremendous opportunity for students is to do something like Habitat for Humanity. The students can learn concrete math and reading skills for measuring dimensions and reading blueprints in the classroom. Then they can have the hands-on learning experience of basic construction skills, which can be put towards a career as a carpenter, bricklayer, building engineer or electrician. A win-win situation for everyone involved.
Steps to get your own service-learning project started in your school.
1. Plan to start small.
2. Do extensive planning.
3. Consider your students abilities.
4. How you will access their learning and tie them in with their IEP and
5. Approval from the school administration.
6. How you will fund the project and how transportation will be handled if
7. Team up with another teacher, class, or school to make it easier.