"A Dream of a Better World" Service-Learning Projects
"A Dream of a Better World"

At Light Way service-learning projects are a required part of our curriculum. Through service-learning projects the need to acquire life and academic skills becomes essential in order to succeed. Based on the needs of the current projects, small and large group direct instruction is designed to meet those needs. Throughout learners will be exposed to project planning fundamentals including organizing and breaking down projects into activities and tasks that are completed in a specific time period. Students build a calendar of projects and events to practice executive functioning skills, task completion and time management. 

What is Service-Learning?

Service-learning is the marriage of community service and academic learning. At Light Way it is a method of empowering youth to change their world and acquire academic skills in real world tasks. Projects picked by children are planned, implemented and evaluated with the aid of lead learners.

Small and large group direct instruction is designed based on the needs of each project. The projects naturally lend themselves to learning in all academic areas. In addition, learners acquire project planning fundamentals including organizing and breaking down projects into activities and tasks that are completed in a specific time period. Learners practice executive functioning skills, task completion and time management.

At Light Way service-learning projects are a required part of our curriculum at the earliest ages. Through these projects the need to acquire personal and academic skills becomes essential in order to succeed. The learning then becomes relevant and interesting to children.

Why Service-Learning?

At Light Way we value the contributions youth can make to their ever-changing world and to the change itself. We believe many children are here to teach us as much, if not more than we teach them. Service-learning is a way to support them in creating their "Dream of a Better World." Academically it is a powerful tool for making learning relevant to immediate needs, wants and desires. Relevancy is a huge challenge for the modern education system.

The Benefits of Service Learning

Strong student engagement in service-learning programs with

  • Clear goals for authentic real world tasks that meet genuine community needs
  • Student and adult reflection and
  • High student voice in a shared decision-making process

Tends to lead to significant increases in

  • Self-efficacy and awareness,
  • Interest in school,
  • Civic engagement,
  • Attendance,
  • Reducing episodes of misbehavior.

These results seem to be especially strong for disadvantaged learners.

More Definitions

Service learning has been defined in many ways.

As a philosophy:

1. It embraces young people as a community resource and asset viewing all people in a democratic society as citizens capable of contributing regardless of age (Kielsmeier, Scales, & Roehlkepartain, 2003).

2. It can also be seen as a way to reinvigorate the central role that schools can play in developing responsible, caring citizens who deeply understand democracy and the meaning of civic responsibility (Yates & Youniss 1996).

As a teaching and learning method, service-learning is

1. A form of active learning that values critical thinking and problem-solving

2. As a teaching tool it is often cited as a powerful, active method of cooperative teaching and learning with full integration and alignment with curriculum standards (Cairn, 1992; Kielsmeier, 2003).

3. It can also be seen as a response to the traditional methods of education that seem irrelevant to the true education of youth (Butin, 2003).

Elements of Effective Service Learning Projects

The 3 C's: Capacity, Connection, and Commitment

The Light Way "A Dream of a Better World" program includes elements designed to increase capacity, connection and commitment shown to be
factors of quality service-learning programs (Service Learning and Citizenship: Directions for Research - Kahne & Westheimer, 2003).

Capacity is built through:

1. Experienced lead learners with a true passion for helping youth facilitate the service learning.

2. Clear Educational Goals: Setting educational goals is achieved through the process of developing the service projects and lead learners guiding learners to make the connections between their academics and the projects. Also the development of mini lessons around the skills nee ded to complete the projects. For example, if learners need to write a business letter, lead learners will teach the format for business letters. In this way instructional goals are stated and met in a natural way throughout the project.

3. Cognitively Challenging Tasks: The setting of a cognitively challenging task is inherent in the project. Learners must conceive of, plan for and carry out an idea that will lead to some measurable or observable change in their community. Learners will also design their own

Program evaluation to test the effectiveness of their projects in achieving set goals.

  • Formative and Summative Assessment Strategies: Formative (continuous) assessment will be performed throughout using
    • Learner self talk
    • Reflection to help learners assess for themselves the alignment of their activities with their goals.
    • Group sharing. All learners will gather and report back to each other sharing ideas and input.
    • Written reflection will also be completed by each learner. Learners will choose between reflecting on their own work and writing a constructive critique of the work of another student or group project.
    • Training on how to be constructive in critiquing others will be provided by lead learners through role play.
    • Summative assessment is based on self-assessment by learners to determine whether they have achieved their goals and how they might
    • Implement differently if they were to engage in another project of this type.
  • Student Preparation for Service Work: Preparation and training will consist of guiding learners through the process of designing, implementing and evaluating a service-learning project.
  • Building Self-Awareness and Self-Efficacy: The elements included developing self-efficacy and self-awareness is
    • Learner choice of project
    • Learner determination of how to implement the project, and
    • Permission for learners to fail. An important factor in building student efficacy through this process is to allow students to fail. A lead learner may know better how to achieve a particular objective; however, the learner must be free to explore ideas and to fall occasionally. It is only through falling that we learn to get back up again. Truly, in this model failure does not exist, there is only finding another way. Once learners discover this truth, they are encouraged to take risks and feel more capable even when faced with failure.
    • Mini-lessons developed by lead learners. For example, one mini lesson is designed to show learners the power they have to choose their emotions in any moment of now. Learners must first become aware of their emotions and what is causing them in order to choose a different one. 

Connections are built through

Engagement in service tasks with clear goals that meet authentic community needs,

Communication, interaction, partnerships, and collaboration with the community.

A community liaison officer organizes the integration of community and parents. The officer will find speakers whose skills and knowledge fit project needs and arrange for them to visit our program and interact with students. The officer will also design and implement a program for parent involvement to include setting up a volunteer program and involving parents in setting up program celebrations of achievement. 

Commitment is developed through

  • KidPower(TM) sociocratic circle governance modeled after the Lederwijs Schools in Sweden. All decisions are made based on group consensus.
  • Empowering youth voice in selecting, designing, implementing and evaluating the service program and celebration and acknowledgement of work. The learners are fully empowered to determine the needs of their community and pick a service project they would like to initiate.