Why Service-Learning Is an Important Part of Education

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Volunteering may look good on a college application, but it’s about much more than that. It helps you build a skill set of good citizenship will help you thrive throughout your life.

Bringing Service-Learning into High Schools and AP Courses

A service-learning curriculum initiative prompted by the College Board and Free the Children is finding ways to enhance high school advanced placement (AP) courses, with the potential to reach millions of high schoolers: the AP with We.org Service program.

“It’s not simply enough to speak to young people about the importance of being good citizens, or even to provide them with community service opportunities; citizenship is, of course, a set of skills that need to be learned,” says Jonathan White, director of the Bentley Service-Learning Center (BSLC) and associate professor of sociology. “Attaching service-learning to curriculum allows for the skills to be taught, discussed, reflected upon and honed inside an academic setting.”

Watch this video to learn more about how the Bentley Service-Learning Center is an important part of students’ education and how it has been helping them make the world a better place for the past 25 years.

White was asked to join the project as senior consultant and has served on the Free the Children board of directors for 15 years, including in his current role as chair of the U.S. board of directors. He says that his experience directing the BSLC — a nationally recognized thought leader in service-learning, student leadership, applied learning and civic engagement — has helped to inform the project.


“It has actually been an honor and quite humbling for me to share insights from Bentley’s innovative service-learning model, including how we embed service-learning into the curriculum to complement coursework and partner for civic change with the broader community.”


Check out these amazing Bentley students who used their spring break to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.


Why Service-Learning Is So Important

And the earlier you learn it, the better, when it comes to service — which is why bringing this subject into high school classrooms is so key. White believes that citizenship is not just a philosophy of ‘doing good’ or ‘giving back,’ but a set of specific, applied skills that need to be learned and honed.


He offers these three reasons why it’s important for you to embrace service-learning:

1. Become Stronger 

Service-learning is a proven teaching strategy that increases a student’s academic, social and cultural competency outcomes. Research, such as that conducted by youth.org and Mission Measurement, reports that the benefits of service-learning include increased personal efficacy and self-esteem, lower levels of antisocial behavior, heightened awareness of civic and social responsibility, long-term involvement in community work, higher voting and graduation rates, and decreased stereotypes and prejudice.

 2. Prepare for Your Career 

Employers are increasingly looking for employees who bring a strong combination of integrated 21st-century job skills, ranging from technical skills (such as accountancy, computer programming and management) to applied citizenship skills (such as critical thinking and leadership), the latter of which are learned strongly through service-learning.

 3. Embrace Generation We

Students from kindergarten through university are asking schools to teach the skills needed to make a difference in their local, national and global communities. Intensive service-learning courses will help provide them with the civic skills they need to find career happiness.


And as they’re seeking jobs (after-school or full time), students are looking for workplaces that care about and encourage civic engagement. Our Companies Where Millennials Thrive series shows how employers are incorporating social responsibility into their corporate culture.


How This New Program Is Helping

We’re currently facing many social problems — from planetary peril to deep poverty to human rights violations and war — and we need programs to empower students with the skills and desire to create long-term solutions that work better for people and planet.

 “AP With We.Org will have a transformative effect on the education system, thoughtfully integrating service-learning into thousands of schools across the United States. Jonathan’s service-learning and curriculum expertise has been central in guiding us as we develop this groundbreaking program,” says Marc Kielburger, co-founder of Free the Children.

Now in the pre-pilot stage, the project consists of six AP subject areas (European history, environmental science, human geography, calculus, Spanish language and culture, and studio art) in about a dozen schools. A full-pilot launch is scheduled for spring 2016.

Over the past decade, Free the Children, the world’s largest organization of youth-helping-youth, has been implementing school-based curriculum through the We Schools program, which has now been adopted in thousands of schools throughout North America and has sparked thousands of We School youth action chapters. The College Board approached Free the Children to work with current AP course curriculum, and to develop a strategy and help deliver content that will allow AP courses to include a service-learning component.

“Communities benefit when we increase the skills of the next generations to tackle and work toward solutions for the social problems they will confront on local, national and global scales,” White says, “When civic skills are taught and honed, we are empowering young people with the tools they will need to affect positive and purposive social change.”


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Kristen Walsh is a freelance writer and editor in the Boston area with a niche in higher education, healthcare and small business. She enjoys the behind-the-scenes information gathering and personal interviews that bring stories to life and strike a chord with readers. Online content and magazine writing includes blogs, opinion pieces, features and healthcare reporting. Her work has been published byThe Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Hechinger Report and The MetroWest Daily News.