“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Though a simple question, it is one we can never ask our students enough. The Corporation for National and Community Service urges us to consider the Martin Luther King Day, “a day on not a day off” and encourages us to use the free time that we have to give back to others. The Day of Service website provides a number of toolkits to help you plan projects for you and your class. You may also find this list of resources from EducationDive helpful as well.

Even with these resources, getting your students excited about service learning can still be challenging. To provide some inspiration, I’d like to share the story of Lafayette Township School’s award winning community service day, Branching Out with the Bulls.

service learning through gardening

Antonia Middle School, a State School of Character, located in Barnhart, Missouri, has been dedicated to service learning since it was established four years ago. The students take charge of their community service projects and are eager to give back to their community. Once a week, the Character Council, a student leadership group, meets to plan school events, including their school-wide community service day. The day of service began the very first year the school opened and the students built a track.

A couple of years later, the students branched out and organized a widespread effort to give back to their larger community. They visited over 15 different locations and found interesting ways to learn while serving. Before visiting a day care facility, students made their own books to read aloud to the children. While helping clean up at the Veterans Hall, the students enjoyed hearing about the Veterans’ experiences. At the local library, they learned the logistics of cataloging and discovered the wide variety of services offered there.

While the day of service itself is beneficial for the students, what distinguishes this program from others is that it is entirely student led.  The students contacted the participating organizations, planned the schedule and assigned the students and teachers to groups and buses.The only aspect the teachers helped with was making sure there was money to pay for the event.

Becky Jarvis, an advisor to the Character Council, offered advice for schools working to get their students passionate about giving back. She says, “The number one thing is let the students be in charge.” Their program is so successful because it gives the students a sense of leadership and responsibility. They have ownership over the project and feel a great sense of pride when they see their hard work pay off.

Interested in learning about other schools’ community service programs? Use our Promising Practices database to discover other successful service learning initiatives.