Service is a seven-letter word that can probably be defined in 700 different ways. If I went outside right now and asked everyone I passed to define service, I have a strong feeling that not one of their definitions would be exactly the same. However, there are probably a few elements that people would agree on. For me, one part of the definition is that service is meaningful. If I am participating in an activity during which I am learning more about myself, the community, or the world, those lessons are going to stick.
Similar to service, how we learn can be defined in just as many ways. While most people may agree that learning is the transfer of information, many will argue that the manner by which that information is transferred from one place to another happens in a vast number of ways. One of these ways is through participating in meaningful experiences.
So, if service and learning both involve meaningful experiences,
why not put the two together and carry them into the classroom?
Service + Learning = Service Learning
Over the course of my education, I have participated in a number of service learning classes and projects. The first one I can remember, occurred when I was in 7th grade. Down the street from the school I attended, there was a small creek. One day, myself along with a group of my classmates, took a trip down to the creek to perform a series of tests. We tested the water quality, identified different types of animals in and around the creek, and calculated statistics regarding our field research. After the project was completed, we returned to our classrooms to discuss our findings. We talked about both, the healthy and the struggling parts of the ecosystem, and after tried to come up with solutions to turn the struggling elements into thriving contributors of the ecosystem.
Not only did this project give me the opportunity to explore a local aquatic community, it also allowed me to see lessons I was learning in school come to life. During an average school day, one of the phrases I hear my classmates mutter quite often is, when am I going to use this in real life? Service learning provides the answers to this question. It takes the concepts students learn in classrooms, and puts them into concrete situations. Experiencing these concepts rather than just writing them down gives learning more meaning.
In high school, as a part of the graduation requirement, I had to complete 30 hours of community service annually. Over the course of my high school career, I participated in a huge array of service projects. Some of the things I did included volunteering to serve meals at a homeless shelter, helping out in an assisted living community, teaching swim lessons at a local pool, and donating my time to tutoring struggling students after school. Many of the teachers I had in high school knew of the different types of activities my classmates and I completed during the school year, and for this reason, they often called on us to share our experiences with the class. Not only did this cause me to find connections between the classroom and the outside world, it also forced me to look outside of my own world to learn from the experiences of other people.
As humans, we like to live in our own little bubbles, and more often than not, forget to take our eyes off of our phones long enough to see what is happening around us. For example, if I wanted to plant a garden,
Could I watch a video about how to plant a garden?
But will I remember this video in a week?
To truly understand the world we live in, we must go out into that world and explore. This is another idea behind service learning. After I had had the experiences of participating in activities that were outside my normal realm of life, I was able to pair information I learned in the community with information I learned in the classroom. These are the lessons I remember most vividly and also the ones that had the greatest impact on my outlook on life.
In college, the service learning did not stop. One of my first collegiate courses had a service learning element that turned out to be my favorite part of the class. In this class, I was required to work as part of a group, to prepare a presentation about the value of a college education. When my group’s presentation was complete, we went on a trip to an inner city school where we talked to middle school students about the steps they could take in high school to prepare themselves for college. After our presentation, we were able to have conversations with the students during which we learned more about their backgrounds and they learned more about ours.
In this experience, I was able to share my expertise with people who would be going through a stage of life I had just completed. In this, I found that one of the most valuable lessons I could learn was that, while I live in a diverse world with millions of people, with millions of different backgrounds, and millions of different experiences, there are still many aspects and understandings of life that we share in common.
While I could go on for pages about all of the lessons I learned by participating in service learning projects, I will take this time to simply summarize a few.
Service learning taught me:
- To not only share my experiences with others, but to be willing to listen and learn from the experiences of these same people.
- That there are many things that I will never be able to learn from Google.
- That going out and finding answers for myself is more impactful than reading a webpage.
- That material I learned in the classroom can actually be found in real life.
But most of all, it taught me that there is
more to the world than just me.
Katie Krawczyk is a graduate of Creative Montessori Academy (CMA), a public charter Montessori school in Southgate, Michigan, where she spent 10 years of her educational life from preschool until 8th Grade. She is currently a student at Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan, where she is pursuing a degree in mathematics and secondary education. Although she has been a Montessori graduate for over six years now, she cherishes the skills and experiences that she gained during those formative school years in a Montessori public school. In her spare time, she enjoys teaching swim lessons, watching movies, and one-day hopes to travel the world.