Committee for Children Blog

Learning to Serve with Heart

This week's blog entry comes to us from Program Developer Tonje Molyneux.

Tonje MolyneuxWhen a group of eight-year-olds tell you they want to change the world, you listen.

I was approached by just such a group a couple weeks into my first year of teaching. A few days before, along with the rest of the world, we had witnessed the horrifying events of 9/11. And even though we were Canadian and lived 2,500 miles away from Ground Zero, we were profoundly disturbed by the violence and devastation of that day. The third-graders who stood before me were impelled to action. What resulted is an example of how well service-learning (S-L) and social and emotional learning (SEL) complement each other, and how, in concert, they enrich students’ social, emotional, and academic development.

Service-learning at its most basic entails the integration of community service projects into the regular classroom curriculum. With this in mind, I suggested my students form a club charged with defining, organizing, and realizing community service projects. While they brainstormed projects to tackle, I worked on aligning the S-L activities with curricular objectives, embedding real-world measures of progress and success into their process and planning opportunities for reflection and celebration, all basic elements of high-quality S-L endeavors (see Making the Case for Social and Emotional Learning and Service-Learning for more on these elements).

During the four years I advised the Students Aware of the World (SAW) club, its members successfully realized a diverse array of projects, including founding and running a schoolwide recycling and vermicomposting program, raising funds to support tsunami-relief efforts in Thailand, campaigning to save the Vancouver Island marmot, adopting a number of endangered species, publishing a monthly, awareness-raising newsletter, and landscaping the school grounds. The original cast of four expanded to include students from all grades, many of whom attended the weekly lunchtime meetings facilitated by the club’s founders.

As the club’s membership and activity levels grew, I realized I was witnessing not only rich, experiential learning, but also the development and application of SEL competencies. As they became more aware of their own values and strengths, my students also expanded their awareness of the perspective and experience of others. They were learning problem-solving and relationship-building skills as they worked with each other and people in the community. In other words, they were engaged in social and emotional learning. As their SEL competencies developed, they also became more capable service providers. SEL and S-L emerged as complementary, effective means of enriching students’ social, emotional, and academic development.

And a lot of juice boxes got recycled along the way.