By: Julie Rogers Bascom, Director, Learning and Leadership  

High school students might be asking themselves the following:

  • What’s an impressive amount of service hours?
  • How many service hours do I need to be competitive in applying to college?
  • What counts as service hours?

These are the questions that came up when I googled “required service-learning hours.” This is what I’m wondering about: what are the outcomes we want for our young people as they engage in meaningful service-learning?  

I think service-learning can be transformational for a young person. When a student finds an issue or community problem they care about and follows the service-learning IPARD process, they see themselves as a problem solver.  (To access more information on IPARD, sign up for the Resource Library and search “IPARD.”) They see the experience as one where they learn about themselves, build leadership skills and make a difference in their community. They apply what they are learning in their classroom to real world issues.  

It’s intrinsic – not something they do to just build their resume or transcript.

Students and teachers might view required service or service-learning hours as just one more box to check off. One student commented to his mother upon her prodding him to turn in his required service hours:

You know mom, you’re not supposed to be doing community service just so you can tell someone you did them. They’ve made it like homework now, when you should be doing it because of the impact it has, not because it was assigned and you just need to turn it in.”

Harvard’s School of Education’s Making Caring Common Project helps us think about how to structure service experiences to promote ethical character. Turning the Tide, Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions offers recommendations for reshaping the admission process. The report suggests that admissions offices prioritize quality – not quantity – of service experiences. Meaningful and sustained service that emerges from a students’ passion and interest might hold more weight than the number of hours a student accrues.  

When, and if, you are requiring service or service-learning hours, consider the following:

  1. How does this requirement lead to meeting academic or learning goals?
  2. What are other student outcomes that you hope the experience can elicit?
  3. How could the student service experiences include working collaboratively with other students or community partners?
  4. How can you build in the service-learning process of IPARD – Investigation, Planning and Preparation, Action, Reflection and Demonstration?  
  5. Don’t forget the R – Reflection. How can you use Reflection as a way to deepen the experience for students?
  6. How can students “do with” rather than “do for” a community that could lead to a deeper understanding of social structures and inequalities?

I’m eager to hear your thoughts on how you use required service and service-learning hours in your school.  Please feel free to email me at [email protected].

And to learn more about how to integrate the IPARD process into your required service-learning, sign up for our Educator Institute this summer as we explore how to pump up youth engagement in the classroom through service-learning!

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