By embracing service learning in its mission, the Hoboken Charter School is committed to the belief that students need to make links between their classroom learning and the real world. Service learning provides students a way to apply what they have learned in school in meaningful ways within their community. It also provides the community with needed services. Students feel useful and challenged, experience an increased sense of competence, hold more positive attitudes about the community, and have a greater sense of responsibility. They practice caring behaviors as they learn about and appreciate diversity among people and environments. Service learning students find their efforts are valued by peers and society as they discover that they can make differences in positive ways. Service learning helps students connect with caring adults in the community, and helps them establish themselves as contributing members of that community.
In the context of the K-12 school, service learning provides an excellent way for younger and older students to work collaboratively. Even the youngest students can help identify a community problem and assist in developing and implementing youth-defined solutions. The form which service learning takes will vary and be adapted to the developmental needs of the students, allowing for the maximum learning opportunities for each young person. Students may visit a senior citizen center, where they can listen and share stories. Younger children can draw pictures illustrating the seniors’ lives while older students can research something about the days when the seniors were young.
Reflection — a time for thoughtful discussion. problem solving and planning — is a key component of the service experience. It is during reflection that students actively and self-consciously process and integrate their service experiences. By carefully considering and discussing concrete events at the service sites, students gain more complex understandings about the nature of tasks performed, about their own strengths and weaknesses, and about alternative strategies for enhancing performance. Learning the value of such reflective behaviors, and practicing these skills in a safe, supportive environment, will provide students with a skill useful in many areas of school and beyond. Reflection activities may include group discussions, journal writing, critical thinking activities, research projects, and other ways students can think about their service experiences in relation to their other academic areas and their own lives.
Service learning is especially appropriate for a diverse urban environment such as Hoboken. Throughout their lives, but especially during adolescence, young people experiment with different roles and identities, struggle between the desire for independence and the need for peer and adult acceptance, and seek opportunities for meaningful involvement in social activities. During this period, young people can be empathetic toward others, but need safe environments in which the expression of caring is supported, not disdained, by peers or adults. In short, the social environment of early adolescents is critical for the development of identity, perceptions and cognitions. Service learning is one way schools can help students develop in these areas.
At the Hoboken Charter School service learning provides a framework for integrating curriculum areas. Experiences at the students’ service sites will be discussed and expanded upon within different subject areas. Thus, service learning will provide a common experience from which different subject areas can draw activities. Furthermore, students’ activities at a service site may also reinforce classroom learning. In the context of the K-12 school, service learning provides an excellent way for younger and older students to work together collaboratively. For the older students, the benefits for those who tutor younger children include increased feelings of competence and self-worth, as well as providing students with an acceptable way to learn material from a lower grade and to apply knowledge acquired.
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