(This article was originally posted on March 24th, 2015 on nylc.org.)
The Minnesota service-learning bill SF597 has passed the Minnesota Senate State and Local Government Committee with author’s amendment and has been sent to the Education Finance Committee. This bill would integrate service-learning into Minnesota’s education system and establish an evidence-based service-learning grant program including the formation of a service-learning specialist at the Department of Education.
This action is another example of Minnesota’s commitment to service-learning as an innovative education strategy. The Minnesota Legislature first introduced service-learning in 1987 when it authorized school districts to levy an extra 50 cents per capita for community education-based youth development/youth service programs, including service-learning. Then in 1989, the first National Service-Learning Conference was convened by the National Youth Leadership Council with support from then Governor Rudy Perpich.
Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s Minnesota sought to deepen service-learning practice at the school level through a Tri-State Initiative with Iowa and Wisconsin, the establishment of the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse, and through a partnership with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Learning In Deed, a national service-learning demonstration program to strengthen practice and policy at the district level. In 2008 the National Youth Leadership Council released the K-12 Service-Learning Standards for Quality Practice, which provides evidence-based standards and accompanying indicators.
Over the past three decades, service-learning has been a proven strategy to engage students in their learning. In 2006, a national representative survey was conducted by Harris Research, drawing from a sample of 3,123 young adults ages 18-28. These young adults were asked questions about their current level of educational achievement and investment in the community through volunteering, voting, donations to nonprofits, and other indicators of positive engagement in the community. Not only school volunteering but also high quality service-learning was shown to have a statistically significant impact on engagement in the community later in life. In the 2008 Engaged for Success, Civic Enterprises reported key findings that revealed that 83 percent of all students said they would enroll in service-learning if their school offered it and 65 percent of all students found the idea of service-learning appealing.
Just last year at the 25th Annual National Service-Learning Conference, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan showed his support for service-learning stating, “I am passionate about service. I am passionate about service-learning. I started working for the Chicago Public Schools back about 15 years ago; literally my first job was to put in place the service-learning requirement for the district. I worry a lot about our dropout rate. I think so many of our young people today drop out not because school is so hard, but because one, it’s too easy, and two, they don’t see the relevance. If you can tie geometry to building something in the community, if you can tie an academic subject to helping to end homeless, to helping to challenge the AIDS crisis, to figuring out how to feed more people in the community, young people know why they are coming to school every single day. So it’s not either-or, it’s always both, and we have these false debates. So when real civic engagement, real civic learning, real academic content, when those things come together it is magical. Both for teachers and for students. They know why they’re in school, they know why they’re learning, and they know why they’re a leader at a very young age.”
Now the legislation has the opportunity to once again invest in service-learning as a proven strategy of academic engagement. Learn more about the Minnesota Service-Learning bill here.