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Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
November 1, 1993
Vol. 51
No. 3

Service Learning: Character Education Applied

In harmony with ASCD's 1993 resolution on service learning, some districts—Atlanta, St. Louis, and Detroit, for example—have mandated service for several years. But Maryland is the first state to initiate such a requirement (Maryland State Board of Education 1992).

Maryland's Approach

To graduate, incoming 9th graders must now meet a required service learning experience. The proposal to require service learning was made in 1985. Service had been an elective program in high schools, but by 1991 only 1 percent of the student population was involved in service activities.
With support from the Governor, members of the State Legislature, and leaders of prominent businesses and industries, Maryland educational decision makers concluded that the advantages of service learning were too obvious to leave to elective status (Maryland Commission on Secondary Education 1984).
The Maryland Board of Education gave the state's 24 school systems flexibility in designing programs; each system can set the number of hours required and choose whether to begin the program in the middle grades or in high school. Such flexibility allows students to earn service credit through activities sponsored by religious and community organizations between grades 6 and 12.
School systems have designed programs that incorporate one or more models. Programs such as those in Baltimore City integrate service learning throughout the curriculum. Others specify that service hours can be earned in secondary school each year. In other cases, students can meet the requirement in a semester or over one or a few grades. In most systems, students can meet the requirement through school-related clubs or organizations—a particular useful option in rural areas without public transportation.
Districts that offer options for Saturday, evening, or summer completion benefit transfer students or students with special needs that require structured occasions to provide service. For students with full schedules or after-school activities/jobs, another approach is to allow the requirement to be met through participation in social groups, nonschool-related clubs, religious institutions, community groups, medical institutions, and libraries.
To prepare students for service learning, teachers typically conduct class discussions and have students complete research or write papers proposing a rationale for a particular type of service. After performing the activities, students reflect on the meaning of the experiences by writing papers or delivering speeches.
Documentation includes validation of service hours through the receiving agency on a service learning card. When service relates to in-school activities, the teacher or sponsor records the hours. Acknowledgment is included on the pupil personnel record, and many systems intend to reference the student's status in meeting the requirement on the report card.

Why Service Learning?

With the focus on learning through service, students participate in systematic activities that result in real assistance to others, as well as personal growth. Service experiences may also impart or reinforce commonly accepted values such as a sense of justice, compassion for others, or an acceptance of the obligations of citizens. Service learning may also yield opportunities for career exploration. Further, this is one instructional method that can build student confidence through risk-taking activities, thus yielding demonstrable growth in a student “zone of development” (Howard 1991). Kuykendall (1992) sees service as a means to motivate the unmotivated by nurturing student's nonacademic strengths.
For these reasons and more, service learning is a major element of ASCD's character education initiative. Affiliates of the Association are urged to lead by establishing required programs that span all ages, all students, and, as appropriate, the curriculum and the community.

Howard, J. (1991). Efficacy: The High School Curriculum. Lexington, Mass.: The Efficacy Institute.

Kuykendall, C. (1992). From Rage to Hope: Strategies for Reclaiming Black and Hispanic Students. Bloomington, Ind.: National Education Service.

Maryland State Board of Education. (1992). Code of Maryland 13A.03.02. Baltimore: Maryland State Department of Education.

Maryland Commission on Secondary Education. (1984). Recommendations of the Maryland Commission on Secondary Education, II: Curriculum. Baltimore: Maryland State Department of Education.

Maurice B. Howard has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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