Service learning projects are a form of project-based learning in which learning outcomes are accomplished through community service. It is a powerful approach to teaching that provides students with authentic learning experiences in real-life contexts. The outcomes of a quality service-learning project are endless (citizenship, responsibility, character, teamwork). Service learning projects are timeless and can be used at any time of the year.
I have used a service-learning component in my yearly plan for over two decades. In that time, my Junior students have worked with seniors, redesigned local parks, multiple environmental projects with the municipality, projects within our own school community, work at local outdoor education facilities, assisting local charities or community organizations and international projects with Sierra Leone. No matter what the project, the outcomes have been very consistent. First and foremost my students are able to start to look beyond their personal needs and develop a global awareness.
The goodness of all children just shines through like beacons when they know they are helping others. For my current teaching assignment I work with students who have reputations as aggressive, ego-centered individuals who do not care about the people around them. They rapidly lose that bravado when they know that they are making a difference for other people. Throughout this year we worked with our local education centre stacking wood for the upcoming maple syrup program, replanted trees and helped keep their site litter free. The experience of knowing they were making a difference for others created an outcome that was palpable. I am sure that I could see their self-esteem grow in front of my eyes.
My most memorable service-learning project occurred several years ago where my Grade 4 class worked with a group of seniors in a program called ‘Walk A Day In My Shoes’. The end result of our year-long work together was two fold. My students developed both respect and understanding for seniors and for many of the seniors, they found a new purpose in their life. As for me, I was reminded how much I love my profession and the difference teachers can make.