Service Learning – using our head, hearts and hands to make a difference

As more organisations and educational institutions look to introduce giving or options to support charitable causes, Acting Head of Service Learning, Natasha Saunders, looks at how All Saints’ College is integrating this form of activity into its curriculum.

 

Students volunteering on the weekend with the Disabled Surfers Association of Australia

With the development of key policy documents such as The Australian Curriculum and The Melbourne Declaration there has been a growing shift amongst educational institutions to accept greater responsibility for the holistic education of our nation’s youth.

The socio-emotional wellbeing of students is increasingly considered as important as the academic success of our students and educators are now being encouraged to take responsibility for preparing students as active citizens of our local and global community.

With this pedagogical shift, growing value has been placed on the role of Service Learning programs in schools as a means of engaging students with their intellect, actions and emotions to consider their place and influence on the environment and people around them. When issues of ethics and justice are integrated into the curriculum across all disciplines, from Humanities to Mathematics, Service Learning provides the opportunity for students to experience deeper and richer learning and, more often than not, empowers them with wider skill sets for success in life and work beyond schooling. We refer to this as using our ‘heads, hearts and hands’ to help make a difference in the community.

All Saints’ College, as a Pre-Kindergarten to Year 12 educational institution, offers some exceptional examples of how Service Learning can be integrated into both the curriculum and also wider facets of a school environment with groups such as our P&F. Now experiencing our third year of a formalised Service Learning program, the College and connected community is reaping the rewards. So what is it about Service Learning that is so beneficial?

  1. Service Learning teaches students real life skills

Establishing valuable, ongoing and meaningful connections with partner organisations is a core goal for Service Learning at All Saints’ College. Our relationship with the Salvation Army is reflective of this and the Year 10 students’ involvement in the ‘soup kitchen run’, which serves Perth’s homeless by providing them a morning meal, demonstrates the way in which students are offered opportunities to develop both practical and social skills which will benefit them in life, now and beyond school.

Let’s face it, learning how to prepare food is a practical lifelong skill, so mornings spent making hot food and sandwiches for the homeless is an obvious benefit. Further, the students enhance their interpersonal skills through their service of the homeless community, many of whom have experienced hardships that are hard to imagine. Developing empathy, compassion and the ability to communicate and connect are life skills that empower students to be able to make a difference in their society as they venture forth from the comfort of their school and home environments.

All Saints’ students and Natasha Saunders working with the Salvation Army to help feed homeless people
  1. Service Learning provides students with opportunities to lead

Through Service Learning programs students are given the opportunity to lead their peers and community through advocacy and fundraising. Presentations and speeches given at assemblies or cohort meetings are excellent ways to practise leadership skills beneficial to both work and life beyond school. More than that, Service Learning engages students in opportunities to lead their wider community in ground-breaking ways.

The All Saints’ McCusker Advocates are great examples of this. These students have recently been approached by Amana Living to work on a music-based therapy program to assist Amana residents living with symptoms of dementia. Through this initiative the students are provided with the opportunity to work alongside trained therapists, exploring the way in which iPod shuffles can be used to create personal playlists for individual residents with the aim of triggering memory and emotion. The students’ involvement in such an innovative therapy allows them to act as leaders in the wider community by illustrating and role modelling how connections can be made for people living with the often debilitating conditions of dementia.

  1. Service Learning connects students with their wider community

Young people in society are regularly stereotyped as selfish and insular, having a sense of entitlement and being concerned only with issues that directly affect them. Service Learning, however, works to dispel this representation and offers ways in which young people can demonstrate their value to community. Service Learning acts as a conduit through which the vibrancy and enthusiasm of youth can be channelled to help those members of our society who may be marginalised and forgotten.

This is best displayed when our students are given the opportunity to connect with the elderly in our community, and has most successfully been demonstrated with an initiative called Exergaming. Each Tuesday afternoon, a group of All Saints’ students descends on the RAAFA Memorial Village to meet with residents and take part in the competitive activity of virtual sports. Designed by the Department of Sport and Recreation to encourage seniors to become more active, the program is unique as it brings together both young and old. Through the program, a mutual respect between these two groups has been born, however it is the lasting friendships that are of even greater value, dispelling any prior misconceptions on the part of both parties!

All Saints’ students ‘exergaming’ with elderly residents at the RAAFA village in Bull Creek
  1. Service Learning encourages students to see themselves as global citizens

There is no doubt that with constant changes in technology, the ability to both connect and travel the globe is easier than ever and there is growing importance for students to be encouraged to see themselves as citizens of the world. This recognition carries the implication that students must then begin to take some responsibility and recognition for the part that they play and impact that they make on a global scale.

Allowing our students to develop empathy and understanding for those who live in other parts of the world, who may live very different lives and hold very different values is therefore crucial if we wish to make any positive progress. Educational institutions that offer their students the opportunity to have the experience of walking in someone’s shoes through immersion trips, provide lifelong valuable learning experiences which may shape the decisions of the students into the future. Trips such as the Teach Learn Grow, Bayulu Community School Experience provides students with the ability to gain a firsthand understanding of the world’s longest living culture. By developing an understanding of the lives and traditions of Indigenous Australians our students can begin to make a difference and hopefully work to heal fractures that have existed in our nation for so long.

Service learning students with Aboriginal people from the remote Bayulu community in the Kimberley
  1. Service Learning encourages students to celebrate diversity

Finally, Service Learning teaches students to embrace difference and work towards creating environments that are inclusive and safe. As students are offered a range of individual programs, each requiring different skill sets, the opportunity for all students to become involved in service is possible. For example, the student who might test their teachers and distract their classmates as they are unable to sit still in a 50 minute period, may absolutely shine when working with people with complex disabilities. In addition to this, the ability for students to push themselves outside their comfort zone and work with people who may be different to themselves often leads to satisfaction and surprising rewards.

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This list is not exhaustive as there are many, many benefits of Service Learning. It is obvious to see, however, that at All Saints’ College we have gone far beyond simply shaking a tin and asking for money, and now embrace Service Learning as a means to become better people and to make our world a better place, living our vision, “Making a positive difference in our world”.

At home we can continue the process, or plant the seed of service in our children, by taking a slightly different approach to giving. Although fundraising is an important part of helping charities exist to fulfill their mission, there are often other ways in which help can be provided which are often more meaningful and mutually beneficial.

By taking the slightly different approach we can show our young people that service is deeper than just the giving of money, and demonstrate how lending a helping hand can be something which can leave a lasting impact in both our mind and heart.