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Close-Up: Four Schools
With Award-Winning
Service-Learning Programs


Curriculum CenterToday, Education World "tours" a few of the schools recognized as National Service-Learning Leader Schools. Learn about their approaches to service learning and about the special projects that earned them their awards. Included: Tips from these top schools and information about how your school can participate in state and national Service-Learning Leader Schools programs.

For additional articles, be sure to see
Education World's Service Learning Archive.

National Service-Learning Leader Schools are middle and high schools selected by the Corporation for National Service as schools that "demonstrate service-learning that enhances student learning, addresses the needs of the community, is well integrated into the life of the school, and is designed to foster civic responsibility."

"The Leader Schools program showcases schools that have made service an important part of the life of the school," said Harris Wofford, CEO of the Corporation for National Service. "Through their excellence in service learning, these schools have promoted civic responsibility, improved student performance, and strengthened communities."


Read More About It!

Have you seen these stories from the Education World archives?

* Service Learning in Action Across the Grades Three excellent service-learning projects involve students in creating Web pages for nonprofits, linking the generations, and introducing students to the inner workings of community government.

* Students Learn While Helping at Soup Kitchen Teachers and students at Presentation of Mary Academy in Hudson, New Hampshire, launched this project, which connects classroom learning and students' participation in a project with the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter.

* Is Community Service a Waste of Time? Education World talks to the experts about what it takes to create a real service-learning project -- if that's possible.

Ellen Erlanger is the director of student/staff development programs for the Upper Arlington City School District. Service learning is an integral part of the teaching process throughout the district, Erlanger told Education World. "The key to the awards was demonstrating that we'd created an overall 'culture of service' in each building," she added.

Upper Arlington's projects are unique and far-reaching in the community. Two of the projects serve as an example of the kinds of service-learning the students have gotten involved in:

  • Jane Hunt's seventh grade life science class at Hastings Middle School created a video called Kids to Kids. The video addresses the very special questions and fears that kids have about cancer; it helps kids understand what someone they know who has from the disease might be going through. The students answered questions from other children in this video created for the elementary and middle schools. The video has also been shown on local television and is available for kids and families to check out at the school library.

  • Over at Jones Middle School, Loretta Heigle's sixth-grade class planted trees all around the Upper Arlington area, including along the West Campus of Ohio State University. The class also participated in a school partnership with Open Shelter, a shelter for homeless men. The students learned what being homeless is like. Part of their classroom work included collecting items for the residents, taking a bus to the shelter, and serving lunch to the shelter residents. The students learned compassion and understanding for fellow human beings through this project, and they help the community too.


Principal Barry Dye is proud of his school's accomplishment. This is the first year the school won a service-learning award and, as far as he knows, it is the only school in the district that has ever won.

Many of Warren Central's departments -- including art, agriculture, business, language arts, special education, and the consumer and family science programs -- developed service-learning projects.

"The language arts department taught Spanish songs and the use of Spanish instruments to students at a local elementary school," Dye told us. "The Special Education Department took pets from the Humane Society to local nursing homes. One group of students involved in a Lifeskills Community program built picnic tables for a local park."

Many other projects reached out into the community and helped Warren Central win the award. Many involved mentoring elementary-age and at-risk children.


The Opportunity School, in Reno, Nevada, might well be the last stop in education for its students. They make it there, or they don't make it at all. They've all come from other schools in the Washoe County School District, for various reasons. The Opportunity School is one last effort to keep in school a group of students who are at high risk for dropping out.

In many of the service-learning projects, the students collaorate with the Nevada Division of Wildlife. Students serve as docents and interpreters at Washoe County wetlands and nature parks; there they work with elementary school students who come to the parks as visitors.

Another group of Opportunity School students illustrated the student field guide for the Oxbow Nature Study Area, located on the Truckee River, in Reno. Other opportunities for students to work in the community include training with the Sierra Nevada Community Access Television (SNCAT) and mentoring reading students at Hunter Lake and Mount Rose elementary schools.

The Opportunity School is an alternative high school that offers a non-traditional learning program. Administrator Susan Mayes-Smith said, "the school will share its service-learning successes with other schools in the district."


The state of New Jersey had the most service-learning award-winning schools; seven New Jersey schools took home awards. Linda V. Rivera is the program officer for the New Jersey Learn and Serve America Program. When asked if it was special programs or overall curriculum that helped them place so many schools, Linda told us: "The answer is both. Both specific programs and the co-curricular connection accentuated the applications. All applicants have service-learning programs that are deeply integrated into their respective curriculums."

New Jersey schools on the list include Cranford High School, the Academy of the Holy Angels (Demarest), Terence C. Reilly Middle School (Elizabeth), Delsea Regional Middle School (Franklinville), Hoboken Charter School, John F. Kennedy Memorial High School (Iselin), and Linden High School.

Teachers at all levels are heavily involved in the New Jersey statewide program. "In all of our leader schools, the teachers are an integral part of their programs. They are involved 100 percent. Without the teachers' involvement, it is very hard to get the curricular connection and all four steps of service-learning," Rivera told Education World.

Those "four steps" of service-learning, from the National and Community Service Act of 1990, are
  1. help students learn and develop through active participation in ...thoughtfully organized service experiences that meet actual community needs;
  2. provide service-learning opportunities that are integrated into the students' academic curriculum or that provide structured time for a student to think, talk, or write about what the student did and saw during the service activity;
  3. provide students with opportunities to use newly acquired skills and knowledge in real-life situations in their own communities; and
  4. enhance what is taught in school by extending student learning beyond the classroom and into the community to foster the development of a sense of caring for others.

"Service-learning is on the rise in the state of New Jersey," Rivera went on to say. "The state and nationally recognized schools are located throughout the state. We have 14 state and 11 national leader schools. They are now a network that anyone can use to find out more about service-learning and how it can begin in their schools. They are out there and willing to help."


Many of the educators we talked to had ideas about and tips for starting service-learning projects in any school.

Service-learning programs need to be a stated focus of the school administrators to be successful, principal Barry Dye told us. Teachers must also see value in the program, he said.

"In my opinion, service-learning offers another strategy for teaching and learning," added Dye. "It can involve students who often are not as successful at school."

"Teachers and administrators who want to bring service-learning to their schools should probably begin by helping decision-makers understand the many potential benefits to students, staff, and the community," said Ellen Erlanger. "Then, rather than trying to get everyone to embrace project development simultaneously, I'd suggest starting with those people who are interested and giving them the support they need to initiate successful pilot efforts."

"Once the first few endeavors are off the ground, the magic will grow," added Erlanger. "At least, that's been our experience."

A study conducted in 1999 by the National Center for Education Statistics found "most schools engaged in service-learning believed that it strengthened relationships among students, the school, and the community."

Linda V. Rivera told Education World that she thinks teachers need to get involved and do some research. "Almost every school is involved in community service, but not all schools have transitioned their community service into service-learning," said Rivera. "I believe that if teachers and administrators understood what service-learning is and how it weaves in so nicely with other initiatives such as character education and school to careers/work they might be able to understand the significance and importance that service-learning can serve in their schools."

"It's the perfect way for students to help their communities and [learn to] understand the real significance of what they are doing in the classroom," added Rivera.


You can find out more about service-learning with these links to resources and reports:

  • National Service News This site of the Corporation for National Service includes news on service-learning schools, the AmeriCorps, and community service projects around the country.
  • National Service-Learning Clearinghouse You'll find a wealth of information on service-learning here, including resources, links, and a database of projects.
  • International Partnership for Service-Learning A non-profit organization formed to support service-learning at all levels, around the world.

    Sherril Steele-Carlin
    Education World®
    Copyright © 2009 Education World

    Originally published 01/12/2001
    Links updated 04/06/2009