Dr. Annie Soler ’02
Coordinator of Service Learning and Campus Ministry
Who, why, and what next? Four service activities for K-12 students
As the coordinator of campus ministry and service learning here at Stuart, I’m always working to make service meaningful for our girls of all ages. I appreciate the guidance of Cathy Berger Kaye, a service learning and educational consultant, who describes five stages of service learning: an investigation—where students start to understand what is out there, an issue, a plan, an action, and finally a reflection—leading to further investigation. While not everything we venture out to do is going to be successful, or maybe it will, what is valuable is to know what worked well and what you can build from. This becomes a spiral experience where students can build on their own work by addressing a real social need that exists currently in our present day, reflecting on that experience, and so on.
Here are four ways that we can engage students in service opportunities that ask the questions: who, why, and what next?
Student-Led Retreat Programs: The main goal of a retreat is to help students reflect on who they are as a person, whether that's identifying their own privilege or being able to recognize their own gifts and talents, to be able to build on their strengths, and also to grow as individuals and grow as a community. Ideally, students will plan everything from the theme to the activities and discussions. In addition to developing leadership skills in the girls, retreat programs embody nearly every Sacred Heart Goal through examining of one’s faith, social justice issues, the building of community, and incredible personal growth.
Building relationships through community service: The majority of high schools have a community service requirement for graduation. There are so many ways to volunteer, but those lasting and meaningful experiences are ones that come from relationship-building, like working with young children or the elderly, or committing time to a nonprofit to build a relationship with the guests or clients they serve. These can be transformative experiences in which students immerse themselves and live amongst a community in need. An objective for this type of experience is to have the young person identify her own privilege and connect it to leadership by using her abilities and position to affect change in the world.
Project-Based Learning: Students often need a real-world application for what they’re learning, which is why cross-disciplinary service projects that are related to a subject area creates an authentic experience for them. Giving students a social issue that is linked to STEM, English, or history allows them to reflect forward and reflect back and connect their classroom learning to the outside world. This is something that can be achieved at home by talking with your children about what they’re learning and getting feedback from their teachers.
Concrete Experiences for Elementary Ages: With young students, there is a bit of a limit because some service opportunities are age-restricted for liability reasons. A lot of work with younger children can be focused on educating and doing things that are tangible, i.e., what can they do right here and right now to affect the community? They can lead a food, coat or toy drive, or collect donations for a local organization, and then learn about who the donations are going to and why. It is a very concrete way for a six-year-old to say, “I am doing something for somebody else.”
How do you encourage reflection with your children after completing a service project either through school or with your family? What have you learned as parents and educators from the children?