Embarking on a Service-Learning “first journey”.

by Ms Tania Torres ttorres@jfk.edu.mx 

As an educator, I’ve always been passionate about empowering students to engage with their community and develop essential skills. Service Learning was my first approach to a whole different teaching experience where students regardless of their grade level, get to undergo real-world experiences, which allows them to engage with their chosen communities, and develop essential skills. As students, they create and execute service learning projects that are meaningful and impactful with positive outcomes such as powerful reflections.

The best metaphor that I can relate to while sharing this first Service-Learning experience is the one of a journey. As we embarked on it, I remember that I was feeling excited and curious about what students could develop on this first experience. Their “first stop” was observations. Students began exploring, identifying and researching in a chosen community ways to contribute meaningfully. Whether it was raising awareness of a specific community problem, helping animal local shelters, or creating videos for specific means, students were eager to execute service-learning projects and reflections that would make a difference in their chosen community. One of the things that really helped me guide students along the way was “The Complete Guide to Service Learning” by Cathryn Berger (2010). This book provided pre-planned activities and examples that guided students along the way. Once my 8th-grade students had the structure and plan of their project, I knew it was time for me to step back and allow them to take ownership of the process. They decided to have collaborative work with a “Show and tell Service-Learning project” where they would receive and give and share feedback, as well as possible contacts of people they knew and could possibly help with their cause. This activity guided them to develop essential skills such as communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills. Time management skill was guided through a SMART goals organizer which students report in their reflection that it was the best way to organize their project. 

Of course, no journey is complete without its challenges. We faced obstacles such as finding suitable contacts to interview and ensuring compliance with child protection policies. But we overcame these hurdles through collaboration with parents, who supported their children in this amazing learning process. In the end, it was all worth it. Our Service-Learning projects not only made a positive impact in our community but also inspired other students from lower grades to take action. Some of their success stories are now featured in our school’s magazine, the JFK Times, Fall Edition 2022 (page 31). If you wish to look at some 8th-grade student outcomes (raising awareness videos, websites, poems, etc), please click here. If you are looking to embark on a Service-Learning journey of your own, I encourage you to take that first step. With the right resources, planning, and attitude, it can be an incredibly rewarding and educational experience!