Dear Service-Learning Community,

Endings are just new beginnings, or so the saying goes. There's certainly some truth to this statement, but the pain of ending is still real. As I write this, our last newsletter, it's sinking in just how much I will miss this work and the wonderful people who share a passion for service-learning as a way to engage young people in meaningful and even profound experiences.

When my colleague Ande England and I started this enterprise in January 1997, we set out with the knowledge that we might not be around long enough to make service-learning a common experience for all Texas students but that we'd do our best nonetheless. Fifteen years later we've come to the end of the road, but not before involving over 1.2 million students in thoughtful service and meaningful learning.

I am filled with gratitude that this journey lasted so long and including so many wonderful people doing extraordinary work, including co-workers, teachers, program coordinators, principals, superintendents, parents, partners, and, most importantly, students. Thank you for your many contributions to Service Learning Texas, which we always envisioned as something much greater than an office in Austin.

With your help, service-learning will continue to prosper and grow in Texas and elsewhere. As you'll read below, other organizations are stepping up to support this innovative teaching and learning strategy in new and creative ways. Resources still exist to help fund service-learning activities. A national service-learning conference will take place in Houston in October. And, as ever, students of all ages and abilities are eager to make a difference in the world, and teachers are in the perfect position to help them realize their dreams.

I encourage you to look to each other as resources, to ask young people for their input and ideas and allow them to learn from their experience, to seek partners who share your commitment and vision, to celebrate your success, and to know that service-learning is in good hands thanks to all of our efforts.

All the best,

Signature of John Spence

Service Learning Texas

Youth Leading Through Service

Community Service vs. Service-Learning

In community service, youth provide service to benefit others. In service-learning youth ORGANIZE service to create meaningful change.

Community Service

Community service is volunteer action to meet the needs of others and better the community as a whole. In schools, community service typically involves canned food drives, coat drives, penny collections, holiday cards for residents of nursing homes, and Thanksgiving and Christmas drives to benefit the needy. These projects are intended to develop the habits and skills of volunteerism and are often capped off with a party to celebrate success.

For many youth, “community service” also means court-ordered service, a form of sentencing for misbehavior or breaking the law.


Service-learning expands on community service by enabling students to explore and examine the needs of others before providing service. The object is to ensure that the service is meaningful and will meet the needs of those being served.

Service-learning also integrates student service into the academic curriculum and emphasizes both service and learning. Structured time is provided for thoughtful planning of the student actions and guided reflection on the service experience.

For example, in service-learning, a canned food drive becomes much more than a competition to collect the most cans. Students can:

  • Interview staff of the local food bank to find out what foods are needed most.
  • Study hunger and homelessness by reading books, such as The Can-Do Thanksgiving, or by examining local data on hunger in the community that has been compiled by nonprofits or government agencies.
  • Learn about nutrition and help others gather ingredients for nutritious meals for a family of four.
  • Educate their peers about good nutrition and healthy eating.
  • Use math skills to graph the results of the food drive by type of food and number of meals.
  • Give a presentation on the food drive and hunger in the local community to the school board and other organizations, to help effect change.