Scheme links community service with lessons

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The Independent Online

A pioneering “service learning” scheme launched in the United States will soon find its way into schools in Britain.

The plan is to kill two birds with one stone by linking community service activities with learning in the classroom.

So, when pupils take part in an environmental project to clear up a river bank, they test the water for pollution levels and report back on their findings in geography lessons.

Alternatively, take the example of a gardening project undertaken by volunteers from schools in Maine, USA, which involves youngsters growing their own vegetables.

They are taught about the nutrition levels of the various foods they are growing in a bid to combat obesity amongst US youngsters.

The project is being pioneered by the National Youth Leadership Council in the US. Its president Jim Keilsmeier estimates that about one-third of all students involved in the country’s community projects are now engaged in “service learning”.

“It impacts very much upon the achievement of young people,” he said. “It has improved it and their participation in school.”

Mr Keilsmeier flew to the UK this week to talk to civil servants in Ed Balls’s department with a view to spreading the scheme.

Gordon Brown has said he wants every youngster to engage in at least 50 hours of community activities a year in the future.

As a start to implementing the scheme, a pilot project will be launched in the New Year among 14,000 14- to 16-year-olds.

Mr Keilsmeier’s organisation has developed links with organisations around the world to promote the scheme, including CSV (Community Services Volunteers) in the UK.

Mr Keilsmeier said: “It’s a way of learning that involves getting out and about.

“If you’re looking at water pollution in the context of clearing up the river bank, one would say that’s service analysis of the water quality.”

The NYLC’s website sums it up: “Picking up trash on a river bank is service. Studying water samples under a microscope is learning – but when students collect and analyse water samples, document their results and present them to a local pollution control agency – that is service learning.”

Mr Keilsmeier added: “Alternatively, if you go into a care home you could look at the ageing of the population, ask them questions about their history and record the story of their lives.

“You then come back and transcribe it and – in some cases – you can put together a brief history of your local times.”

The NYCL scheme has won the backing of the influential 3.2 million-strong National Education association, the States’ largest teachers’ union. “They are beginning to see the benefits as far as teaching and learning is concerned,” Mr Keilsmeier added.