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Service Learning

Service Learning at THES:
Kids learn by doing, and the community benefits.

This academic year Travis Heights Elementary School (THES) incorporated a number of new initiates to the campus, all of which support the school’s motto: Learn, Serve and Lead.

One of those initiatives, Service Learning, offers an exciting vehicle for students to connect in meaningful ways to their neighborhood and larger community. Service Learning is an educational approach that takes learning and uses it for a public purpose. THES introduced Service Learning last year as a pilot study for two grade levels, and after review and refinement, adopted the program across all grade levels this year.

While Service Learning incorporates connections to the world outside the school and engages students in projects which benefit their community, it is about much more than community service. Service Learning is based on the theory that students learn most effectively, and are more likely to take ownership of their own learning, when learning is grounded in relevant and authentic tasks. Service learning differs from community service (volunteering) by requiring structured and guided classroom learning. Students then apply this knowledge directly to a problem or need in the community.

Learning works when it comes alive for students. At its core, Service Learning is designed to create a personal connection to the topic of study. It removes the “why am I studying this” question many students have and replaces it with an opportunity for students to think critically and participate actively – creating personal linkages to the study topic. One of the most compelling aspects of Service Learning is its ability personalize learning for students. That personal connection deepens the learning process.

Service learning acts as a portal to teach a wide range of skills, and promotes better study habits by more actively engaging students in their learning through the connection to their service project. Each THES grade has developed a Service Learning concept for the year that will help unify and engage the students across their disciplines.

THES Service Learning Projects

  • Kindergarten is bringing together the school community through food.  We displayed students’ family recipes at the Cultural Festival and are now compiling these for recipe booklets to sell at a small cost and donate the money to the soup kitchen at Caritas of Austin.  Representatives from Caritas will discuss with students about how food brings the community together in their soup kitchen, and the importance of giving food to those in need.
  • 1st Grade is working on understanding what is involved in being responsible pet owners. Austin Pets Alive is helping connect these students with their research and providing opportunities for out-of-school learning. The project will culminate in an education campaign that the 1st graders create and take school-wide to help their fellow students enter pet ownership responsibly.
  • 2nd Grade is working on water conservation, an issue that will only become more relevant. Our school’s location on Blunn Creek offers a laboratory in our backyard.
  • 3rd Grade is focusing on financial literacy, with students learning about micro loans, interest and how to make good financial decisions. This activity involves math, strategy and development of compassion. This project is using market days to help students understand supply, demand and the value of philanthropy as they decide whether and how to donate some of their earnings.
  • 4th Grade is working to think about the world from the vantage point of a person with special needs. They are reading a remarkable book, Wonder, and are working on how to create a reciprocal relationship with another school that serves special needs students.
  • 5th Grade is studying bullying and developing strategies based on research to reduce bullying.

As Service Learning projects, the research that the students do will be multi-faceted. The projects employ the MISO research method, which uses Media, Interview, Survey and Observation to give students multiple perspectives on their topic and requires active engagement by the students to acquire the information. Learning culminates not in an end-of-year test, but by the actions of the students in their project.

THES teachers and administration have received training, guidance and mentoring on Service Learning from national expert, CB Kaye. Ms. Kaye is a world-known leader in Service Learning. Her manual and blog are resources THES will continue to use as we implement this program and connect our school with other Service Learning programs. The AISD curriculum office supported a portion of this training cost.

THES students, parents, teachers and administrators are very excited about this project. We believe it will help our students academically and provide a way to honor the support our community has offered and continues to offer to our school.

What is it?
Service-Learning is based on the theory that students learn most effectively, and are more likely to take ownership of their own learning, when learning is grounded in relevant and authentic tasks. Service-Learning trained teachers provide a learning environment that strongly promotes “horizontal connectedness” across areas of knowledge and subjects as well as to the community and the wider world.

Why are we doing it?
Service Learning encourages students to collaborate and demonstrate personal and social responsibility. Scales, et al, (2006) found that students who participated in service scored higher in achievement, motivation, grades, bonding to school, and attendance than those who did not participate in service. C. B. Kaye, an author on and leader in Service Learning, emphasizes Service Learning as a process that engages children in issues they find interesting and connects learning to larger community issues.

What will this mean for my child?
In the summer of 2013, our staff met for 4 days with Service Learning leader, C. B. Kaye. Each team chose a theme to investigate with their students for the 2013-2014 school year. Themes included Eldercare, Gardening, Respect, and Water Conservation. Your child will learn more about these areas and how they relate to their community this year.

How can I help?
Service Learning requires teachers to find and bring in experts from specific fields of study into the classroom. Students learn from these experts and learn to ask questions that drive their learning. Talk to your child’s teacher to find out what experts might be needed this year to support their Service Learning endeavors.