Service learning promotes community engagement

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Service is part of learning.

Reganne French wants to educate people about mental health issues. French is in her final year at Regina Dominican High School (9-12), a Catholic school for girls in Wilmette. The school’s Leadership Institute prepares girls to make an impact in society. As part of the program, students choose a worthy cause and develop a plan of action.

French’s group decided to focus on mental health, a big issue during the pandemic. Students develop activities to teach students in Regina and other schools how they can help people with mental health issues. One planned activity is a “color run,” a 5 km fundraising race where runners wear different colors to represent different types of mental health issues. “We thought it would be a fun way to bring attention to the issue and raise money for a good cause,” French said.

Private and independent schools often include service learning programs in the curriculum. Students apply their academic knowledge and critical thinking skills to help solve community problems.

“We want students to be active participants in society,” says Chris Dow, principal of Chicago City Day School (JK-8).

Service learning projects address a range of issues from homelessness and hunger to social justice and climate change. With guidance from teachers, students organize activities ranging from simple food drives to the creation of global nonprofit organizations.

“We want students to be active participants in society.Chris Dow, Principal, Chicago City Day School (JK-8).

The City of Chicago Day School has worked with the Friends of the Chicago River for 20 years. Students measure the quality of the water and observe its impact on the plants and animals of the river. Grade 8 students follow the data and present it to the annual Chicago River Student Convention.

This summer, older students took a service learning trip with the Shedd Aquarium in the Florida Keys to monitor coral reefs and perform water quality tests. On campus, students created habitat for the monarch, planting milkweed and other monarch-friendly plants. “We have a lot of butterflies,” says Dow.

In May, students at Josephinum Academy of the Scared Heart (9-12), a Catholic high school for girls in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, started a service learning project on social justice. “Our community was hit hard by the murder of George Floyd,” said director Colleen Schrantz. She adds that one of the founding pillars of the school is to transform social consciousness into action. The students organized a peaceful lunchtime outing and created posters to raise awareness about issues such as police brutality, animal cruelty and immigration.

The big impact of service learning

Chloe Young and Georgia Scarr started a school club that has grown into a global environmental non-profit organization, Eco Circle International. It bridges the gap between environmental education and sustainable action. Young and Scarr are seniors from the British International School of Chicago, South Loop (Preschool-12).

Eco Circle offers scholarships – action-based courses – to students aged 12-18 in the Americas, Asia, and Australia. Fellows learn to create environmental initiatives in their own communities. “We realized there was a lag between education and change,” says Scarr. In addition to scholarships, Eco Circle promotes its post on social media platforms and a blog on its website (ecocircleinternational.org).

The school was instrumental in starting Eco Circle. The school supported the group’s green initiatives on campus such as composting cafeteria scraps and banning plastic water bottles. Today, Eco Circle has 30 members in its development team. Sixty students from all over the world have registered as fellows this fall. Reflecting on the success of the organization, Young says, “We followed our passions.


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