Why Do It?

When practiced according to established quality standards, service-learning produces many benefits — for students, schools, and communities. In fact, service-learning is the only teaching method that can strengthen academic achievement, develop character, increase civic-mindedness, and promote career readiness. As a “value-added” approach, service-learning helps participants from both schools and communities, and provides multiple benefits.

Studies conducted throughout the United States have shown the benefits of service-learning in seven key areas:

Motivating Students To Learn

Students who participate in high-quality service-learning experiences typically become more engaged in learning, as demonstrated by improved attendance and increased motivation to learn. That’s because service-learning is a stimulating, meaningful activity. It involves not only reasoning skills but also interpersonal relationships, feelings, emotions, and self-esteem. Service-learning provides an opportunity for every student to be successful.

Improving Higher-Order Reasoning Skills

When teachers explicitly tie service-learning activities to curriculum standards and learning objectives, standardized test scores rise, together with other measures of academic achievement. By facilitating dialogue about more complex service-learning tasks, teachers help students improve higher-order reasoning skills, such as the ability to evaluate a situation from complex perspectives and synthesize information to develop solutions.

Fostering Personal and Social Skill Development

In service-learning settings, students work together on productive activities and are often given responsibility for the outcome of the project. This leads to a genuine sense of engagement — a determination not to let each other down or disappoint the people who are being served.

In addition to promoting responsibility, trustworthiness, and caring for others, service-learning has positive effects on personal behavior. Youth are less likely to engage in risky behaviors such as smoking, unprotected sexual relationships, and drug use.

Developing Stronger Ties to Schools, Communities, and Society

Service-learning activities help bond students to their school because they become more motivated to learn. Service-learning can also establish a sense of civic responsibility to the school, the community, and society. For example, students who help neighbors participate in the census learn why it is important that every citizen be counted. Students who help with voter registration learn how democracy works.

For many young people, service-learning is one of the few activities that can be successfully accomplished on a regular basis. The experience of working with and for others can be empowering.

Providing Exposure to Career Pathways

Through their service-learning experiences, students meet people with diverse careers, including social workers, architects, service workers, scientists, park rangers, government workers, and community agency staff. Many young people were previously unaware that such professions existed.

During the course of the service-learning experience, students frequently develop bonds with adults other than parents and teachers, who can provide new perspectives on careers and offer guidance on career pathways.

Helping Create Positive School Environments

Service-learning is currently practiced in about a third of all public K-12 schools in the United States. Sites that have incorporated school-wide service-learning have improved teacher morale, developed more caring school climates, and stimulated fruitful dialogue about teaching and learning.

Teachers who practice service-learning are often passionate supporters. They feel that service-learning has made their teaching more effective and made learning more fun and productive. While teachers initially tend to feel that service-learning creates more work for them, over time they find that the extra work declines significantly and that the benefits outweigh the costs.

Enlisting Community Support for Schools

Communities derive many benefits from service-learning — benefits that shine a positive light on local public schools.

Student service activities are designed to address a specific community problem or meet an important need. Student involvement helps build the capacity of community organizations. And community members who interact with youth tend to revise their opinions of the younger generation, who are now valued for their useful contributions.