by Rebecca Bauer

Are you looking to revamp or improve your service learning program? Challenge yourself to go beyond the typical annual food drive or fundraiser. Read about these three schools’ unique and powerful practices and the lessons we can all learn from them. Consider how you can make these ideas work in your own community!

– Use service learning projects as an opportunity for students to hone their research skills.


At Carusi Middle School, in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, the Community Reading Program, Reading is My Superpower!, offers 6th, 7th and 8th graders the opportunity to inspire a love of reading in their younger peers. While many schools have reading buddies and peer mentoring programs, Carusi Middle School’s program stands out for its intentional approach.

Reading mentors take their jobs seriously and understand the importance of their work. Assistant Principal, Kelly McKenzie, shares that they “prepare for the field experience by researching the history of mentorship, selecting texts to read to their mentees and reading texts aloud to develop fluency through the Language Arts Enrichment course.” She adds, “This practice generally fosters strong leadership, models instructional excellence and promotes a positive school environment.”

– Encourage students to explore the needs of their own community.

At Ernest W. Seaholm High School, in Birmingham, Michigan, a school club called Seaholm Offers Support (SOS) provides opportunities for students, parents and teachers to reach out to the greater community.

While many of their projects are traditional, including food drives, tutoring younger students and visiting the elderly and providing holiday gifts, this program is unique because it involves a monthly meeting where all stakeholders take inventory of the community’s needs. They think not only about the community as a whole, but also how they can brighten the lives of individuals and families that are struggling, while still ensuring the privacy of those they are serving. The club was originally established by parents, but as interest for the program grew, the students created Club SOS, a student run branch of this initiative.

– Empower students to educate their peers about current service learning projects.

At Ballwin Elementary School in St. Louis, Missouri, students allot a portion of their Friendship Party to giving back to others. Instead of passively participating in a teacher designed service project, students began the project by conducting their own research.

Ballwin_Elementary_School_photo1School Counselor, Stephanie Gravlin, explained the process: “This year, student leaders from [the] 4th grade level prepared and presented an assembly for the entire school. These students researched Shriners Hospital and came up with four key points that they wanted to communicate. This year’s assembly addressed the following points:  What is Shriners Hospital? Who are ‘Shriners’? Who does Shriners Hospital help? What are comfort blankets, and why do we make them? From there, the students went directly to their Friendship Parties. Among other activities, one station was reserved for working on the comfort blankets…Once the blankets are completed, a group of 5th graders deliver the blankets to the hospital. ”

In addition to practicing their research skills in order to better understand the project at hand, the students honed their leadership and presentation skills by disseminating that information to others.

Do you have a Promising Practice you’d like to share? 2016 Applications will open on November 2nd, so start thinking!