Jay's World of Abstracts

Jay's World of Abstracts 00007

Lessons Learned about Service-Learning

An abstract from 'Lessons Learned about Service-Learning: Voices of Experience About Urban Service-Learning in Saint Paul Public Schools'
by Martha Johnson, Saint Paul Public Schools.

[Standard disclaimer: The nature of abstracts are that they are pieces of something larger. Not everyone is going to be happy with my choice of abstracts from any larger work, so if you are dissatisfied, I would refer you to the original document, which should be able to be found on the Internet. I encourage others to make their own abstracts to satisfy their needs.

Jay's Introduction

When I read the voices in this paper, I literally wept. This was what I always wanted to do as a teacher, but was never allowed to try. Books and tests seemed more important than life and experience. These folks caught the vision and ran with it.

This is a wonderful look at a way to improve community life and the lives of everyone involved. Work like this can be done in many settings, not just school. In many ways, it mirrors the result we want to see from our Improving Health Initiative.

Unfortunately, this is only a paper about lessons learned in applying a system that is not really outlined here. I will look about for the actual system and abstract it in time.


[Page 5]


Quality service-learning transforms students, schools and communities. Service-learning creates powerful learning experiences for students and strengthens ties between schools and community. While integrating curricular goals with a real community need, service-learning gives students the power and the voice to work for social change in their world. It engages them in their own learning process. Students become active learners and creators of history who have opportunities to realize their collective and personal power to make a difference. In order to engage in this kind of learning, teachers together with students must work to establish quality partnerships and collaboration with community organizations and community volunteers. Everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner.

Service-learning, and our whole educational system, get stronger when we seize opportunities to share our experiences together. Lessons Learned is based on interviews with teachers, students and their community partners who are doing service-learning in Saint Paul Public Schools. Among other things, they reclaimed a wetland, advocated for human rights, lobbied Congressional leaders, removed an invasive plant species and tailor-made Spanish books for children in El Salvador and Guatemala. In doing so, they learned a lot about service-learning -– the educational methodology that made it all possible: both their learning and the community change that grew out of (and also supplied a large portion of) their learning.

This document contains the lessons learned that they’d like to pass on to you. The work that provided these lessons has paved the way for Saint Paul’s “Plan for District-Wide Service-Learning” which grew out of local and national research, including more than a dozen focus groups. The plan, written by a specially convened task force, recommends hearty support for service-learning but stops short of a mandate. The goal is that every student every year would participate in service-learning.

[Pages 6-7]

Lessons learned about what it’s like to learn this way:

Students Voices
Community Partner Voices
Volunteer Voices
Teacher Voices
[Page 14-15]

Lessons Learned about Youth Voice and Leadership

Community Partner Voice
Volunteer Voices
Teacher Voices
[Page 16]

Lessons Learned about Collaboration

Effective service-learning partnerships draw schools back into the community and the community back into schools.

[Page 17]

What we really need:

  1. Stronger volunteer commitment,
  2. Greater administrative involvement and support,
  3. Clear and consistent student voice and
  4. More curriculum integration.
In short, service-learning needs to become a more integral part of how we teach and learn. A few teachers cannot carry the load forever. It must become more encouraged, more integrated, and more permanent.
–Community Partner

[Page 18]

“I like to use the example about the empty building’s window getting broken: if it doesn’t get fixed it tel ls people that it’s OK. We have to teach people that we all have a role in taking care of our community. People need to learn not to break the window in the first place, to fix it if it does get broken and to work together to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Lessons Learned from Parent Involvement

Volunteer Voices
[Page 22-23]

Lessons Learned about Collaboration within the School.

[Page 24]

Lessons Learned about Meeting Real Community Needs

  • Teacher: My students object if they feel like they’re doing ‘busy work.’ They hate feeling unprepared or ineffective. They love knowing the work they prepare for is really going to help someone.
  • Community Leader: ‘Community’ can be the person sitting next to you, the whole planet, or anything in between. Project s that meet a ‘community need,’ then, could be within a classroom or have a school-wide, national or international focus.
  • Student: I don’t think a lot of people know about the problem we worked on. I didn’t before this class. I think if more people knew about it more people would care. That’s what we tried to do with our project.
  • Teacher: One of my students always says “If I can’t use it to help my community, why should I have to learn it?” I like that question . . . the ways we help our community with what we know have surprised all of us.
  • Advice for STUDENTS


    General Advice for ALL PARTNERS

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