The Importance of Service-Learning

11 May

Why Applewild Teaches Service-Learning

The National Youth Leadership Council, a nonprofit organization which exists “to create a more just, sustainable, and peaceful world with young people, their schools, and their communities through service-learning,” defines service-learning as “an approach to teaching and learning in which students use academic knowledge and skills to address genuine community needs” (  Service-learning for children of all ages is incredibly beneficial, as it promotes, enhances, and encourages strong character, respect for and connectedness to local or international communities, and is an opportunity for students to actively participate in civic activities (  Community-based service-learning experiences reinforce the importance of compassion and civic-mindedness while also building a child’s knowledge of a specific academic subject through action.  Authentic service-learning is meaningful work in which teachers act as guides and mentors and students are expected to self-reflect on their experiences.  

Service-learning programs can be found across New Hampshire, and those which are most engaging connect projects back to a curriculum.  Jim Kielsmeier, founder of NYLC, notes that service-learning is “learning by doing with a giving dimension.”  Service-learning goes beyond community service, as it encompasses academic-based projects that are focused on benefitting a community.  A strong service-learning program allows students to work collaboratively to design and implement their own program.  Learning to break down a project into smaller pieces, delegating the smaller pieces, as well as building resilience and learning to overcome objections are lessons elementary, middle school, and high school students can build upon through their academic years and well into their first jobs.  

Authentic service-learning has many dimensions and includes building an understanding of needs and partnerships in students’ own communities.  At Applewild School in Fitchburg, a PreK -8th grade school, all 8th graders take part in purposeful engagement with real-world issues. They begin by researching to understand issues facing their community and then developing projects to address those issues.  From animal rescue to food insecurity to literacy issues, students are guided by adult mentors in their service-learning, but the leadership for the projects comes directly from the students.  Just last spring, Applewild students were awarded with a grant to fund their non-profit start-up organization which seeks to address literacy issues in the community (

For elementary and middle school students, age appropriate service-learning starts in the classroom.  One example is the all-school Empty-Bowls Project at Applewild School, a community-wide effort to address food insecurity.  With this service-learning project, students and school community members set a goal to create up to 1,000 ceramic bowls for purchase, with all proceeds donated towards a local, non-profit organization that combats hunger.  In addition to the artistic elements of this project,  as a part of their academic curriculum students learned about local and world hunger issues.  This project has included collaboration among students and teachers, community-service at a local food bank, and developing an understanding of how civic-mindedness, compassion, and creativity can benefit their neighbors.   DSC_0287In summary, service-learning includes the following characteristics:

  •         A program that emphasizes understanding before taking action.

o   Students need to research and understand the issues in their own communities before agreeing to take action.

  •         Students’ voices should guide the project

o   Students need to be heard and respected. While younger students are guided, older students should have the opportunity to take on leadership roles.

  •         Building partnerships

o   Students should work to find community partners who may already be working on solving one aspect of a community issue and leverage these partnerships for an even greater result.

  •         Students gain by learning through the process, not by hours spent.

o   An authentic service-learning curriculum does not place emphasis on hours spent in short-term community service projects; rather, the emphasis is on the learning and greater understanding that takes place as a result of doing the work.

Listening to students’ voices and engaging students as problem-solvers opens possibilities for students and communities - and strengthens both.


As seen in Parent Express The Importance of Service Learning