Character Education through Service Learning
While spending time with students at each of our schools, I have noticed that common kindness towards others exists, but there seems to be little to no awareness of serving others in need or going out of one’s way to help others. The environment in which students live today is one of immediate gratification, focused on individual devices, and an increased desire for expensive things. Where technology and instant access to endless information has created a smaller globe, it has also desensitized students to real issues and areas of need in the world and communities in which they live.
Impact of Character Education: More than Just Being Kind
Making these observations has prompted a newfound interest for me in character education and it turns out there is ample evidence that character education and philanthropic work impacts students in a variety of ways. A study by Oregon State University researchers found that Positive Action, a program that teaches social and emotional skills and character development to elementary school children, had powerful results:
- Academic test scores improved as much as 10 percent on national standardized math and reading tests.
- Scores improved 21 percent on state reading tests
- Scores improved 51 percent on state math tests
- Suspensions dropped by 70 percent
- Absenteeism fell by 15 percent.
There are many studies to share on Character Education that all showed an improvement in social skills and good character, an increase in academic performance, and an overall positive impact on school culture.
Service Learning through Project Based Learning
Upon planning for character education at our schools, I was certain that it wouldn’t involve sitting and listening to a teacher drone on about sharing. Since we are a project based learning school, I knew that it would have to involve hands-on activities and be driven by the students as much as possible. I want students to get out in the communities and further develop their character through helping others. I believe that once they capture and identify that feeling of helping others, positive character skills develop naturally.
I found that the Service Learning is the best approach to implement character education as students who participate in Service Learning can answer the question, “When are we ever going to use this in the real world?” as when they use their skills, knowledge, and passions in real-life situations, learning extends beyond the classroom.
21st Century Skills
Service learning differs from just volunteering as it includes an emphasis on student leadership and includes reflective and academic components. It offers skill building in areas such as collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving that are critical for students to be successful in today’s markets. Students reflect on community needs, ways to help, and once their service has been completed, they can internalize how their efforts have helped, while learning more about academics such as geography, math, or science. Service Learning is like the project based learning approach to character education as it combines some theory in the classroom but is student driven and is mainly guided by real life applications. I believe it is the best approach to helping to develop students into caring and compassionate students who are aware of the world around them.