Ways to boost service learning in schools

December 10, 2018

There is a mistaken assumption that community service done by high school students occurs almost automatically and that the hours students give to charities and events are a cinch to manage. In fact, there is wide variation in these programs’ success and value primarily due to two factors: mandates and management systems.

There is a mistaken assumption that community service done by high school students occurs almost automatically and that the hours students give to charities and events are a cinch to manage. In fact, there is wide variation in these programs’ success and value primarily due to two factors: mandates and management systems.

In some states, such as Kansas, Maine and Nebraska, more than 40 percent of high school students volunteer. Yet in other states, such as Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee, less than 20 percent of students donate their time. Mandates do boost participation but only 11 states require students to be involved in service learning, and only one—Maryland—requires students to complete community service to be eligible to graduate.

So why the disparity in participation levels? Teenager empathy driving them to participate plays a big role. However, according to two school leaders we interviewed, organizational skills and record-keeping systems have the more significant effect on whether a service program is a vibrant enriching program at the school or a burden no one wants to assume. How then are successful volunteer programs set up and managed? Two veteran New York state educators offer advice.