Getting Students Excited for Service

Posted by Natasha Derezinski-Choo on Tue, Apr 29, 2014 @ 10:00 AM

This post was written by NobleHour Special Contributor Natasha Derezinski-Choo, a student at Grimsley High School in Greensboro, NC.

A more caring world would be comprised of more people using their time to improve their community.  However many people do not feel motivated to serve.  The best way to overcome this obstacle is to instil a sense of obligation to one’s community at an early age.  Motivating young people to volunteer can seem daunting at first because teens are perceived as being apathetic and selfish.  However, with the correct approach, bringing out the compassionate side in teens is less challenging than it may seem.  To encourage young people to become civically engaged, you must first appeal to their interests by listening and guiding them toward service opportunities that they will learn and grow from the most.  Motivating students to serve is less challenging than it seems.

Becoming influential in young people’s lives means earning their respect. Students will be more open to your ideas if you become relatable without being artificial.  Trying to relate to young people by pretending to be one of them will only have their eyes rolling at you. Treat them as you would anyone else, and be yourself.  Young people want to feel that your energy and enthusiasm is a genuine part of who you are.  They don’t want to hear a sales-pitch type speech about volunteerism that blatantly attempts to appeal a younger generation.  To do this you must break the predisposition that adults don’t trust teens and vice versa.  

Though seemingly counterintuitive, young people will sooner respect and follow you if you treat them as an equal.  Show them you are someone they want to respect and listen to rather than someone they must follow.  An important step in establishing this relationship is so engage them in meaningful conversation. Using authoritative language full of rigid directions and procedures is ineffective because in truth, no one really likes being told what to do.  People like to hear about new ideas and then with their own sense of agency decide to act upon those ideas and movements.  Avoid clichés and present the platform of volunteerism as an exciting, new idea by showing how it can be innovative and meaningful. Once you have earned the trust and respect of a group of young people, you’ll be ready to engage them and help them make the most of their service experiences.  

As an advisor and mentor to young people, encouraging them to serve means being a resource and guide to their service projects.  Students are driven to work for causes that they are interested in, so rather than handing them a project, talk to them and coach them through what they think is needed in the community and how they believe they can help. Though they may be initially motivated by an incentive to volunteer the goal is that gradually students will become more inclined to volunteer out of personal interest and growth - rather than just a reward.  You can help students develop this inclination to volunteer by guiding them to find opportunities that align with their interests.  Listen attentively and show them ways they can become involved with nonprofits or start their own service initiatives that cater to their interests.  Students are impacted personally more by the one-on-one conversations they have with mentors and teachers than large, wholesale speeches and lectures.  Getting to know a student can help you be a better resource to them in finding service opportunities.  

The main goal of motivating students to serve is to make service fit with their lives rather than forcing it on them.  You earn their trust and respect by being genuine, relatable, and an attentive listener. Often students feel unenthusiastic about service because they don’t really feel they can make an impact; they think they do not have a say in the things they’d like to change in their community.  Intrinsically, most students want to exercise their voice in the community, but don’t realize they have the power. Volunteering helps students understand ways they can make a difference.

Additionally, when a student feels stuck, help break down a project into small tasks.  Try to understand what they are interested in changing and show them that this can be achieved by asking them to break up a project into smaller steps.  Short-term goals are easier to digest than big-picture ideas.  Showing students that service is an accessible way to make a difference is one of the best motivators.  Check in with students periodically on the progress of their service projects and remind them that their work is appreciated.  Showing appreciation for a volunteer’s work helps to maintain that trust and respect that was initially built to get them involved.  

Encouraging students to volunteer means first gaining their attention and respect.  Incentives may help catalyze a student’s service, but individualized attention and guidance will help motivate them to become life-long volunteers.  Getting students to work with other people their own age also helps motivate them to serve.  In the end, fostering a culture of service and instilling in each individual the desire to work for something greater than themselves starts with making change-making more accessible.  Showing young people that by applying their knowledge and passion, they already have the tools to make a difference is the best way to ensure volunteerism begins and continues to give them purpose in life.  

Topics: service learning, volunteering, k12, millennials, leadership, engaged learning, social entrepreneurship, higher education, community service coordinators, experiential learning

The power of experience: How service-learning transforms education

Posted by Natasha Derezinski-Choo on Thu, Apr 24, 2014 @ 10:03 AM

 

This post was written by NobleHour Special Contributor Natasha Derezinski-Choo, a student at Grimsley High School in Greensboro, NC.


“We have to realize that sitting in a classroom is not the only way you learn, and it’s certainly not the best way you learn.”

 

Recently, I shared how Brenda Elliott-Johnson, along with her Character Development team, is successfully leading a growing service-learning movement in her school district.  Elliott-Johnson is the Executive Director of Student Services and Character Development for Guilford County Schools and the 2014 recipient of the G. Bernard Gill Urban Service-Learning Award.  

 

This week, in part two of my interview, Elliott-Johnson shares the power of service-learning as a tool for educators. In response, I share my experiences as a student involved in service-learning.

 

Natasha: What would you might say to someone who is critical of the value of service-learning?


Elliott-Johnson:
Sometimes the community and the world has a perception that our youth are sitting around playing video games, watching television, going to the mall, or looking in the mirror - caring about themselves. So, I just don’t understand anyone who would be against young people using what they have learned in school to improve their schools and their community. 

One of the things about the service-learning in Guilford County is that it is optional.  We understand that many of our young people have really full, active lives and may not really see this as something that they really have a passion for, or time for.  We have 72,000 children in our school district.  This isn’t going to be the thing that every child wants to do. 

We do believe that our teachers should be using this as an instructional strategy in classrooms because it is a research-based strategy that increases student engagement, reduces discipline and improves attendance. We hope that students that are doing this don’t just want to get an award, but that they have a passion around an issue and they are committed to solving that issue. 

What we try to do in the elementary and middle school levels is build that passion for the [service] work, so it’s natural for them to have a passion for serving their communities in high school.  That’s our goal.  We intentionally made sure it was optional just for that reason.  We didn’t want people to feel obligated to serve.  We wanted people to do this because this is what they are passionate about.   


Natasha: You talked about innovation and problem solving.  Do you remember a specific time or example when you saw a student really grow or something just clicked when they did service-learning?

Elliott-Johnson: We read a lot of the reflections that youth write about their experiences. [At] the middle school down the street, one of their English teachers lead a global awareness project in connecting students to another country that she had actually spent time in as a Peace Corps volunteer.  Those students wrote letters back and forth, and ended up actually writing books for the students there because one of the issues is that they don’t have books. 

Another example - we have students who are developing tutoring programs.  They are helping us address issues of literacy; they are helping us to address achievement gap issues.  [In] one of my favorite projects, we had students lead a senior project called “Malaria Sucks” which was an initiative to purchase and distribute netting in a country with a lot of deaths and illnesses from malaria.  I just see this as the world being opened up to a lot of students.  We have a responsibility as global citizens to help each other.  



Natasha: You described service-learning as an educational tool. Now, this seems to be a point of confusion for some people: the difference between volunteerism and service-learning.  How would you clarify or define what service-learning means?

Elliott-Johnson: When you look at high quality service-learning, when we are talking about service-learning being used as an instructional strategy, we’re talking about a teacher using it as a strategy to teach content in the classroom.  In the classroom it should be a very good balance between the learning and the serving.   

We have to realize that sitting in a classroom is not the only way you learn, and it’s certainly not the best way you learn.  You learn by doing.  Experiential learning is the best learning.  
 


As a student, speaking with Brenda Elliott-Johnson was inspiring. I got to see how educators are finding innovative ways to improve education through service-learning.  She stressed the importance of learning real-world applications and skills through service. Elliott-Johnson believes that service teaches “big picture skills” such as critical thinking and teamwork, and also helps build empathy, reflection, and oral and written communication skills. She sees service as a way to build persistence and global awareness.  Her passion for improving education through service has resulted in the growing success of Guilford County Schools' service-learning program.  For students, this program is opening doors and eyes, which otherwise would remain closed in the classroom. As a student, I personally can attest to the power of learning through service.  

Halfway through grade nine, our guidence counselor visited my English class to talk about opportunities in high school and our future.  What stood out to me most during this session was a story he told about what may happen to a student participating in service-learning.  In the story, a student interested in science starts volunteering at a local hospital.  In time, the student gains insight into the medical field and might even take on a small part time position at the hospital. This experience helps him to grow as an individual and become an engaged member of his community.  With this experience in hand, when the time comes to apply for college, this student has built an interest in medicine upon real-life experiences.  Students engaged in service-learning form connections and learn real-world skills.

After hearing this promising story, I decided to find out more about the service-learning program.  I started with volunteering at the library two hours a week to meet the monthly goals I'd set for myself.  From there, I was exposed to other exciting extracurricular and service-learning opportunities where experience and connections started becoming my most prized tools.  I'd become aware of the possibilities available to me, and my volunteer work became about more than counting hours and a piece of paper at graduation.

Spending a few hours sorting books at the library snowballed a whole new chapter in my life centered around service-learning.  I became involved with other nonprofits and service events, joined youth leadership and service organizations, and learned the value of being an engaged member of the community.  I became more outgoing and a better risk-taker.  While engaged in service, I interact with people from different backgrounds and age groups.  I developed better oral and written communication skills, and the confidence to make myself not just seen, but also heard.  

In short, my life has taken a turn similar to that of the student our counselor described to us.  Because of the work of people like Brenda Elliott-Johnson do in the field of service learning, pushing students to solve community problems and apply themselves to more than just school work, I have grown and matured. I have learned more from the opportunities presented by service-learning than from any other experience in my teen and adolescent years.  
 

How have you seen service-learning change your own live or that of someone else’s? 

 

Download the Benefits of Service-Learning Infographic

 

 

 

Topics: engaged learning, service learning, k12, community engagement, experiential learning, leadership, learning strategies

Planting the Seeds for a Successful Service-Learning Program

Posted by Natasha Derezinski-Choo on Thu, Apr 03, 2014 @ 08:35 AM

This post was written by NobleHour Special Contributor Natasha Derezinski-Choo, a student at Grimsley High School in Greensboro, NC.
 

“Students are always asking, 'when will I ever use this,' and so service-learning, for me as an educator, has always answered that question by giving them opportunities to solve problems.”

– Brenda Elliott-Johnson, Executive Director of Student Services and Character Development for Guilford County Schools

The 25th annual National Service-Learning Conference will be held in Washington, D.C. this year from April 9-12.  This conference invites educators and students from across the nation to attend workshops, hear keynote speakers, and engage in service. The event brings together civically engaged young people to share the impact of service-learning and volunteerism. This year the conference will focus on teaching leadership, advocating for service-learning on Capitol Hill, and service opportunities across the globe.

One of the conference presenters is Brenda Elliott-Johnson, the Executive Director of Student Services and Character Development for Guilford County Schools and 2014 recipient of the G. Bernard Gill Urban Service-Learning Award. I sat down with Elliott-Johnson to learn how a successful service-learning program is started in schools and to learn how service-learning can serve as a tool for educators.

______________________________________________________________________________


Natasha:
How did you become involved in service-learning. Where did it all start?

Elliott-Johnson: I started with service-learning as a teacher, and so that would have been almost twenty years ago. I just really tried to figure out ways to take what students were learning in school to some real world examples. Students are always asking, “when will I ever use this,” and so service-learning, for me as an educator, has always answered that question by giving them opportunities to solve problems.  

In Nashville I was still really involved a lot of organizations.  I was a Student Council sponsor at my high school. I was involved in a program which helps young people think of ways to address bias, bigotry, and discrimination.  We had a lot different ways that we were helping young people solve community problems.  

I was a science teacher and we had a group of young people—I taught at a predominantly African American school—and there was a concern about the lack of African Americans going into the field of science.  Our students developed a website to promote African American students into the fields of science by highlighting local people who were working in those different areas.

As a principal, I also served on a number of community boards including a Youth Holding Power project that I helped to sponsor, which was a national project that had youth leading school reform efforts, and a Youth Impact Project.

Natasha: You’ve won an award and you will be attending the National Service-Learning Conference. Can you tell me a little about that?

Elliott-Johnson: The National Youth Leadership Council holds an annual National Service-Learning Conference, which bring together students, teachers, and researchers in the field of service-learning. This is our third year, as a school district, to participate. The last three years we have been able to bring students so they can see what other students are doing around the country in the field of service-learning, as well as share our practices and learn about other opportunities for service-learning.

We are glad to be able to do that this year. It’s going to be a big deal, and one of the events includes is a visit to our elected officials – to actually go on Capitol Hill and talk about the importance of this type of learning.

Natasha: Can you tell me about the evolution of service-learning here in Guilford County?

Elliott-Johnson: Our superintendent, when he came in 2008, did listening tours around the city. What he heard over and over again was that something was missing from the education of our students. Whether he talked to parents, students, community, or teachers, they all said the same thing. They felt that it was character—that our students needed to have good character and they also needed to make a positive difference in their community, not just when they graduated.  So out of that came our district’s Character Development Service-Learning Initiative, back in 2008.  

Our original goal was to expand character development and service-learning district-wide. We’ve had some tremendous work happen, including in the last three years for our high school seniors to document more than 600,000 hours of service and more than 2000 of our graduates to earn service-learning recognition. We have a lot of youth that are engaged.  More than 10,000 have been engaged in service-learning in communities and schools. I’m just so excited about it. We’re just beginning to measure the footprint that our youth are leaving in our community: that 600,000 hours is more than a $14 million impact. They [youth] have a lot of innovativeness that we could benefit from as a community.   

To clarify, students in Guilford County School’s service-learning program can earn recognition for their service in two forms.  They can earn an Exemplary Award by tracking at least 100 hours of service-learning using NobleHour, or they can earn a Service-Learning Diploma by completing at least 250 hours of service-learning. 

To keep track of all the hours students complete for their service-learning recognitions, Guilford County schools turned to NobleHour to help make this process easier and more efficient.  As Brenda explains, to fulfill the superintendent’s vision of service-learning “…we had to find a system that we could easily use to capture these hours. We looked at a lot of different products, and NobleHour seemed to be the one that really stood out for us and has helped us to be able to capture that data.”  The impact of these hours is changing the lives of students and community members.  Educators in Guilford County have started a successful service-learning program that is growing and taking learning beyond the classrooms and into the real world.  

Topics: service learning, volunteering, community engagement, youth impact, millennials, engagement, high school, service learning, k12, experiential learning, NYLC, National Volunteer Month

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