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Best Practices for Online Service-Learning

Posted By Amy Meuers, Thursday, June 25, 2020

In just two short months, schools will be back in session. The continued worries from the coronavirus pandemic have administrators across the world scrambling to figure out what learning will look like for students. What we do know is that whether students are in classrooms, online, or a hybrid of both, service-learning can enhance student engagement, increase academic knowledge and skills, and inspire students to engage as active citizens in their communities.


Service-learning allows for meaningful learning opportunities for youth through contribution to community. It empowers young people to address issues they see in their school, in their community, or around the world. It provides them an opportunity to feel empowered, to share their voice, and to engage in the civic process. When students have service-learning experiences, they build a commitment to life-long service.


To ensure service-learning experiences continue in these uncertain times, we have put together best practices for online service-learning. We want the process of service-learning to be done with quality so that it continues to meet the needs of students and educators alike.


Online Service-Learning Best Practices:

  • Set norms for how you will work together. Be clear expectations, communication, and behaviors.
  • Cultivate belonging. We know relationships matter so pay close attention to strategies that build relationships like one-on-one interactions, small group discussions, and discussion boards.
  • Focus on the process of service-learning, not the platform. The pedagogy of service-learning engages students in the learning process, gives them a voice, and builds their connection to each other and the community.
  • Identify what learning outcomes you want for your students (academic, civic, social-emotional, etc.)
  • Determine how you will know they have met learning outcomes. (What criteria will you use? What evidence will you collect? How will you assess learning at the end of the experience?)
  • Then, facilitate students through the IPARD process:
    • Investigation: students need to understand root causes of the issue they want to address. Understanding why the problem exists is an essential part of the problem-solving process. Much of investigation can be done remotely. Students can read articles, interview experts via phone, send out community surveys, or scour the internet for information (learning to distinguish between fact and opinion).
    • Planning & Preparation: planning is fundamental to ensuring students are ready serve as a cohesive team. Technology is made for collaboration and teamwork. Students create timelines, task lists, budgets and more.
    • Action: the service part of service-learning does not have to be direct (in-person). In-direct service activities like raising funds or supplies are great ways to do service. Partnering with a local nonprofit that has safety protocols in place for receiving donations ensures student safety. Advocating or educating others about your issue is another way to safely serve remotely.
    • Reflection: learning does not come from the act of service but in thinking about the experience itself.  Whether personal, small group, or the entire class, reflection reinforces student learning outcomes. Reflection can be written, visual, auditory, or more.
    • Demonstration: sharing students' experiences is an important culmination of the service-learning process. Technology allows students to be creative in telling their story and allows them to share broadly. Whether students create storyboards or podcasts, write a blog or newspaper article, or develop a play or music performance. Demonstration provides evidence of student learning and effect on the community issue.
  • Together, the students and teacher then assess the success of their experience. Did students meet the learning outcomes? Did they meet the community need? What worked? What would you have done differently?
  • Lastly, try different technology engagement strategies.  Start with a few that you know and then don’t be afraid to experiment.  Ask your students if they have any platforms that they prefer.  Maybe even have one of the young people lead the experience.  Check out our growing list of technology tools that support online service-learning.


When teachers lead students through the process of service-learning whether online, in person, or a hybrid of both, students will gain the knowledge and skills to become civically informed and engaged citizens who have the know-how to make the world a better place.


Tags:  civic engagement  online learning  service-learning 

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What the 4th of July Means to Me

Posted By Fadumo Mohamed, Thursday, July 4, 2019

July 4th the day of the fireworks and America’s birthday. July 4th is a holiday meant to cause happiness and joy. It is a day for family get togethers, picnics and amazing fireworks. This is what the 4th of July means to most people. What does July 4th mean to me? To me, July 4th starts a week earlier when you can hear fireworks around the neighborhood. I get both excited and nervous. I am excited because I expect the festivities to be fun. I am anxious because July 4th wasn’t really designed for people like me. The 4th of July is expressed by blue, red and white themed desserts at the store. It is hearing about the upcoming holiday when making plans with family or friends at the end of June. July 4th symbolizes the American spirit and how it is mass marketed to the typical American audience. July 4th is seeing the beautiful and ugly sides of patriotism. July 4th is a fun loving day where you can be happy.

July 4th is also filled with bitterness and hatred. To me, July 4th is a complex feeling of both positives and negatives that has shaped and made me aware of my identity over the years. My family doesn’t take July 4th as seriously as most people. So to me, July 4th isn’t a holiday to celebrate or get ready for but a day to relax and enjoy some fireworks. Most years, I spend the 4th of July with my mother and siblings, counting down the time until we leave to see the firework display; betting on how long they will last. My siblings love the fireworks display. I don’t look forward to July 4th like most people but I do enjoy the positive energy it brings which always puts me in a good mood. The 4th of July means seeing other people that you don’t know while watching fireworks and making room for them next to you if they can’t find a place to sit. It’s going on Snapchat and seeing your friends post badly timed photos of fireworks on their story with the cheesy caption of “HAPPY INDEPENCE DAY!!”. July 4th to me is about the unity of a nation, all kinds of people coming together and celebrating the birth of a nation that they are a part of. July 4th despite it’s problematic aspects is something that means a lot to me. It has created some of my happiest memories and I love that it makes people happy and unites others.

July 4th, as I mentioned, also has a negative meaning to me. Last year, my family and I went to watch fireworks in our hometown. Halfway through the display a group of young white teens drove past our car and yelled both racial and islamophobic slurs at us. This incident ruined my family’s experience and we drove home about five minutes later. There behavior acutely reminded me that while July 4th is a holiday that was meant to bring joy, it is also a holiday that is reaped with racism and oppression. It is a holiday that wasn’t created for people like me, a Muslim American who lives in the midwest. Patriotism can be a beautiful thing but it has an ugly side that many people tend to ignore. Many people believe that America should be celebrated by “ True Americans” and that usually leads many people to be unfairly bigoted to those that don’t fit that very small and close-minded niche. This tye of patriotism makes people feel pressured to celebrate and do ‘typical American things’ on July 4th even if they don’t want to. Whenever people bring up the problem with July 4th they are accused of hating America and are told to “leave the country”. To truly celebrate all that America represents, we need to address these issues. As you celebrate Independence Day this July 4th, have fun but don’t engage in toxic behavior for the sake of the “True American Spirit”. Let’s make this an America where we all celebrate because we all belong.

Tags:  civic action  civic engagement 

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Service-Learning May Digest 2019

Posted By Administration, Thursday, May 30, 2019

Summer’s almost here, and students were busy this spring with service-learning in classrooms and afterschool programs. Check out some of the great happenings from the past month. Got a program you want to share? Send us an email at!

Ridgefield Academy's Grade 7 and Prospector Theater: The Importance of Making a Difference
Service Learning is an integral part of the curriculum at Ridgefield Academy and builds character development. It teaches students to be thankful for what they have, to empathize with others and to develop a sense of civic responsibility. This results in students being able to see different perspectives. Additionally, they develop confidence and a sense of empowerment, as they discover they can have a lasting impact on others.
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Better World Day: Grass Valley Charter School Students ‘get smart, do good’
Grass Valley Charter School celebrated Better World Day in early May, with the other EL Education schools in their network nationwide.
EL Education (formerly known as Expeditionary Learning) is a network of schools committed to service learning and character education. Grass Valley Charter showcases service learning projects on Better World Day, and throughout the year. Here are a sampling of teaching kids to “get smart, do good,” as EL Education likes to say….
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Turner Elementary to Host Learning Fair
Each year Turner Elementary School has a year-long, whole-school Service Learning project. This year the students focused on Heifer International, an organization that works to end world hunger and poverty. They kicked off the year by reading “Give A Goat” by Jan West Schrock, a picture book which features a grade five class that raises money to purchase a goat to help a family in need through Heifer International.
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Around Town: St. Paul Seventh-Graders Work Hard, Learn in Park Visit
The seventh-graders of St. Paul Catholic Church in North Canton have a long standing partnership with the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. For more than 15 years, they travel to the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Camp for hands-on, multi-day learning experiences.
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Tags:  civic engagement  monthly digest  service-learning 

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Justice in Action Hits the Streets

Posted By NYLC, Sunday, April 7, 2019

(This article was originally posted on March 29, 2018 on

Thanks to all of you who joined us in balmy St. Paul for the 29th Annual National Service-Learning Conference March 11-13! We’ve been awash in reflections as we hear the news you’re making putting justice into action, planning for change, advocating — in short, making history.

Thanks both to participants and to the amazing volunteers, partners, and sponsors who supported #SLC18. You all make this possible!

More than 500 people of all ages and geographies gathered to share stories, scheme, and learn the latest. The conference was a packed three days of powerful speakers, innovative sessions, and meaningful service — kick-started by a two-day Educators’ Institute at the nearby Science Museum.

So, let’s reflect.

Day 1 (Sun.) We have yet to hear of one daylight savings time mishap, despite the conference beginning on Sunday, concurrent with the time change. Service-learners are prepared! New to the conference this year were sessions first, plenary midday.

At the plenary, youth in action took center stage, with 13-year-old Caleb Chung of Colorado explaining the inspiration behind his marathons to raise funding for access to potable water; Merrit Jones urging us to “amplify, accelerate, and aggregate” the impact of our work; Nicodemus Madehdou explaining his innovative tech start-up JumpButton Studio that has a public purpose; and ever-young Barry Guillot — a teacher from New Orleans — describing the latest chapter of his Wetlands Watchers Park. All this, capped off by a youth panel with moderators Ricky Yoo, a member of NTLC’s Youth Advisory Council and NYLC’s Professional Development Director Elizabeth Koenig.

More sessions followed, featuring a Gathering of Elders with McClellan Hall of the National Indian Youth Leadership Project moderating, and including educators Josie Johnson, Daniel Abebe, Jim Kielsmeier, Abdisalam Adams, Rose Chu, and Ramon Pastrono sharing their wisdom teachings.

Day 2 (Mon.) By the second day, workshop sessions were in full swing, including panel discussions that featured peace-building and social and emotional learning’s role in service-learning.

We feasted midday while celebrating the 2018 Service-Learning Award-Winners: Alec Dickson award-winner professor Barb Witteman; an illustrious crowd of young people from Utah who developed a STEM curriculum called “The Incredible Machine”; Katrina Weimholt of Northwestern University’s Center for Civic Engagement; and Nan Peterson of the Blake School.

Day 3 (Tues.) Fresh off the dance floor of the Youth Room Mon., evening, participants boarded buses for the Day of Service, heading out to the YMCA’s new Equity Innovation Center, the Arc Minnesota sites that support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families; and the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge Education and Visitor Center. Service-learners discovered, sorted, labeled, photographed, and created across the metro area, linking their actions and contributions to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Here’s to 2030, when we aim to have conquered all 17 goal areas!

That was so much fun, let’s do it again next year!

Save April 10-13, 2019
for the 30th Annual National Service-Learning Conference
in Washington, D.C.
(We promise real spring there!)

Tags:  awards  civic engagement  elders  service-learning  Sustainable Development Goals  youth leadership 

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Service-Learning March Digest 2018

Posted By NYLC, Sunday, April 7, 2019

(This article was originally posted on March 27th, 2018 on

Thanks to all of you who joined us in St. Paul March 11-13 for the “Justice in Action” National Service-Learning Conference! We have been buzzing since, with news about all the ways you are making impacts in your communities — most recently with March for Our Lives. Check out a conference participant’s experiences in the local march in St. Paul. We are excited to work with you on connecting these actions to ongoing advocacy.

Meanwhile, in news from around the country:

  • The April 15 deadline for the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes award of $10,000 is looming! The prize celebrates “inspiring, public-spirited young people from diverse backgrounds all across North America.” Each year, the recognition goes to 25 inspiring young people, ages 8-18, who have “made a significant positive difference to people and the environment.”
  • Global Youth Service Day is just around the corner, April 20-22! Our partners at Youth Service America are documenting service-learning experiences around the globe, linking actions to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. Register your project to see your own role in affecting change!
  • Our friends in North Carolina are sponsoring a series of service-learning “UN-conferences” in mid-April. As they describe the event, “An unconference is a conference without predefined topics. The theme will be service-learning, but actual topics will be generated during the conference. This format creates space for peer-to-peer learning, collaboration and creativity.” Join them April 16 in Asheville; April 17 in Raleigh; and April 18 in Wilmington.
  • In Ionia, Michigan, the Ionia County Foundation’s Youth Advisory Committee is awarding grants to organizations that benefit young people in the region. Their YAC is composed of high school students, and every two years, they conduct a needs assessment to identify funding priorities. Successful grantees utilize “service-learning” to address teen driver safety; academic motivation; the achievement gap; substance abuse; depression; literacy; bullying; and/or hunger. The maximum award available per grant is $1,000.
  • In New Jersey, Partners for Health “fosters collaboration among nonprofits so that together they can increase positive health outcomes in the communities they serve.” In a significant collaborative effort last year, Montclair Community Farms distributed 1,200 pounds of affordable produce to local residents with lower and fixed incomes. They engaged more than 500 participants in service-learning projects, and provided educational experiences to 350 children, while addressing community food access goals by launching a greenhouse program.
  • Finally, check out this great article ““What Service-Learning and Global Goals Taught Us About Promoting the Greater Good” about the impact of last year’s National Service-Learning Conference on Bettie Weaver Elementary School in Chesterfield, Va. Connections to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals are reinvigorating their commitment to project-based and personalized service-learning. As authors Lara Ivey and Lindsay Mottley say, this commitment promises to bring their school “from good to great, and from compliant to engaged.”

Tags:  civic engagement  funding  grants  march for our lives  monthly digest  service-learning  Sustainable Development Goals 

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Service-Learning and Protest

Posted By NYLC, Sunday, April 7, 2019

(This article was originally posted on March 23th, 2018 on

by Maddy Wegner, NYLC Director of Engagement

Are you prepared (the “P” in service-learning’s IPARD cycle) to March for Our Lives tomorrow Sat., March 24 — to put some justice into action?

At NYLC, we have been in a post-conference reflection zone, thinking back to the inspirations of March 11-13, when many of you gathered at the National Service-Learning Conference in St. Paul, Minn. As keynoter Merritt Jones, the Executive Director of Student Voice said, now is the time to “amplify, aggregate, and accelerate!”

We know that many of you were returning to school walk-outs the day after the conference (Mar. 14), and are now preparing for the march on Saturday, in Washington, D.C. and sister cities around the globe.

This seminal moment in American history is a perfect time to apply what you know as service-learners. Let’s see how the IPARD cycle fits.

  • “I”: Investigate the issue – The march itself can be an opportunity to more deeply investigate how gun control and school safety issues are framed in your own communities. Are students ready to survey participants in the march? Could they document the signage? Maybe they want to interview marchers about their  next steps, and create a podcast? They might also want to read the recent coverage of the Parkland shooting in Time and/or New York Magazine, or investigate one of many movements initiated by young people. Check out this five-minute video on the 1963 Children’s March for civil rights in Birmingham, Alabama, for example.
  • “P” Plan next steps, based on what students have learned in the investigation phase. NYLC offers an action plan that helps this stage of learning. As the Parkland students planned, they even reflected (an ongoing part of the service-learning process) on what words to use as they deal with the media.
  • “A” – This is where action can and should be determined by the students themselves. The Parkland students, for example, developed a five-part agenda: 1) Congress should lift funding limits on CDC research into gun violence; 2) records of gun sales should be digitized, so they can be better tracked; 3) universal background checks should be enacted; 4) the sale of high-capacity magazines should be limited; 5) as should the sale of all assault weapons. Any one of these issues could be the basis for ongoing advocacy.
  • “R” – Reflect, using the “What? So what? Now what?” questions to spark thinking. This allows you to discuss how actions of substance, which result in change, aren’t one-time events. They require sustained attention, and ongoing refinements to initial actions.
  • “D” Demonstrate what has been learned. Students can upload their actions to the Student Voice Network national map to start to see the aggregated impact of related actions across the country.

As NYLC’s founder Jim Kielsmeier reminds us, while the Parkland students are powerful in their ability to inspire others, “They are not unusual.” The legions of service-learners ready to put justice into action attest to that.

Let us hear how you and your students mobilize this weekend! We are with you!

Tags:  civic action  civic engagement  march for our lives  service-learning  student protest 

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Civic Engagement and Service-Learning in North Carolina

Posted By NYLC, Sunday, April 7, 2019

(This article was originally posted on February 13th, 2018 on

by Maddy Wegner, NYLC Director of Engagement

There’s nothing like a group of social studies teachers, in the midst of African-American History month, in Greensboro, North Carolina, to make service-learning sing.

Twenty-seven indomitable educators attending their state social studies conference Feb. 7-8 tackled the service-learning IPARD cycle and social and emotional learning in less than an hour. Driven by the “big ideas” they teach with implicit or explicit civic engagement outcomes, they brainstormed possible project ideas, then connected academic, civic, and social/emotional outcomes to each step in the cycle, with an eye toward the formative assessments that would help them track their students’ understandings.

  • The big idea of the Bill of Rights framing American ideals became a youth review of a student handbook vis-a-vis the Bill of Rights, with student surveys and school board presentations driving the action.
  • The big idea of poverty as the root of many societal challenges became a youth-led resource bank of post-secondary options for students, with avenues for financial support as part of the research and deliberation phase of the inquiry cycle.
  • The big idea of civil rights issues shaping societal norms became an exploration of movements and activism, from the 1960s to present day, with ideas for English/Language Arts assessments and self-awareness leading to social awareness interspersed throughout the study.

As one teacher mused at the end of the session, “What if social/emotional learning were a part of the state curriculum?”

“Can you mandate empathy?” she wondered.

Perhaps you can in a state with such a rich sense of living history. Certainly, my understanding of the impact of the civil rights movement increased when I met a brother of one of the “Woolworth Four” who was staff at our hotel. As he could attest from his sibling’s (Ezell A Blair, Jr.) refusal to leave the “whites only” Woolworth counter in downtown Greensboro in 1960, “Food just tastes better when you can sit down.”

These social studies teachers may be inspiring the next Woolworth Four by supplying their students with the tools for not only reading history, but also making it.

Tags:  civic engagement  service-learning  social justice  social studies 

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Youth Voice Reigns in 2018

Posted By NYLC, Friday, March 29, 2019
Updated: Friday, March 29, 2019

(This article was originally posted on December 28th, 2018 on

The end of the year is a wonderful time to look back—to reflect on all that has happened.

In 2018, young people across our nation stood together to address an issue that adults have swept under the rug for years — gun control. They found their voice, their passion, and took action. In February, the students of Parkland, Florida inspired young people across the nation to stand up and take action on gun violence. On March 24, for 17 minutes, at 10 a.m. across every time zone, students protested Congress’ inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods.  Young people found their voice and together, they told the world that change is needed.

It is young people’s passion and commitment to making the world a better place that has inspired the work of NYLC for the past 35 years. When students engage in service-learning they gain academic knowledge, interpersonal skills, self-confidence, and civic knowledge and skills. They learn they have the power to make a positive change in the world by working with people with diverse perspectives. Young people gain a better understanding of themselves as they explore and develop ways to contribute to their communities. They develop self-confidence and an enhanced commitment to public service.

In 2018, young people showed the courage and tenacity to demand respect from our leaders and from each of us. They showed us all that they are ready and willing to Serve. Learn. Change the World.®

Tags:  civic action  civic engagement  civics  learning  service  service-learning  student engagement  youth leadership  youth voice 

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February Service-Learning Digest 2019

Posted By NYLC, Friday, March 29, 2019

(This article was originally posted on March 13th, 2019 on

What happens when service-learning is part of classroom instruction? Check out a few shining examples of excellence in this month’s digest.


UTD is joining the nationally growing trend of service learning in the classroom. This semester, the university is offering 10 classes centered around service.

In 2017, UTD received $1 million through the University of Texas System to incorporate community engagement into the curriculum. Since then, the school has offered a variety of classes, from helping the homeless youth population to supporting students who identify as parents, to reach this goal.

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SPHS Juniors Connect With Community For Service Learning Projects

Throughout February, the 400-person junior class at Severna Park High School traveled to three elementary schools to complete their service learning project.

The project was to connect with students at Park, Brooklyn Park and Hebron Harman elementary schools and write books for their buddies.

“It is probably one of the most meaningful things that I get to be part of at Severna Park,” said Valerie Earhart, an English teacher at SPHS.

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Learn 2 Love group makes sandwiches for 363 Sandwich Project

The Somerset Elementary Learn 2 Love service learning group recently made 610 sandwiches for the 363 Sandwich Project.

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Fort Service Learning Academy honors Columbus community members in celebration of Black History Month

On the last day of Black History Month, 10 community members were honored by Fort Service Learning Magnet Academy in Columbus.

News Leader 9 Barbara Gauthier was among the honorees.

“Everybody should be celebrated, not just this one month, but all months,” said Crystal Simonton, theater arts director. “Everybody should be celebrated in general.”

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Service Learning earns state award

Only ten schools in state recognized for their service

Staying busy is nothing new for the dedicated Jefferson County High School Service Learning teacher Lani O’Connor, who matches the energy and passion of her students as they work together.

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New Service Learning Classes Build Community Connections

In one of the newest University of Texas at Dallas classes, students are helping immigrant high schoolers with English. Another class is talking to fifth- and sixth-grade girls about social media and bullying. And still another is working with homeless teens in Dallas.

These classes are part of the University’s growing community-based service learning program, which gives students the opportunity to explore new topics while serving as teachers and mentors in the community.

Read more


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Tags:  civic action  civic engagement  community engagement  featured  service-learning  volunteerism  youth leadership 

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This is What Democracy Looks Like

Posted By NYLC, Tuesday, March 26, 2019

(This article was originally posted on March 27, 2018 on

“Love. Not hate. We want to graduate!”

We are students. We want change!”

“Tell me what democracy looks like? THIS is what democracy looks like!”

 Among those chanting these demands in St. Paul, Minn. this past Saturday, during the March for Our Lives, was eighth-grader Lindsey, along with two friends and approximately 20,000 others. She had just participated in “Justice in Action” — the National Service-Learning Conference — in St. Paul 10 days earlier. Below, she reflects on the march with questions her mother posed.

 Q: Tell us about the event you attended. 

A: It was a march against gun violence. . . Students and parents got together to protest gun violence and then heard some people talk about the how we can fix the gun violence in this country.

Q: What did you notice? What stood out for you?

A: There was a vibe there of kindness. We were all there to support the same cause.

How did it feel to be there?

Just being there made me feel like I was part of something amazing that I can tell my grandkids that I took part in and be proud of. I knew I was helping make a difference in our history.

Why did you go? Why was this important to you?

I went to this march because I don’t want to worry everyday if I’m going to be shot or if I come home and find out that my best friend is dead. I shouldn’t have to worry about that. No parent should have to worry about that, or lose their kid due to something that could be so simply fixed.

What did you learn? How are you changed by taking part in this event?

It was truly amazing seeing all those people there. I learned that together people can really make a difference. Going to this [march] has made me want to participate more to make sure that every other kid feels safe in school including me.

What will you do now? What are your next steps?

I would for sure go to another one in the future. I also plan to do the school walkout in April. I am ready for something to change.

As Lindsey’s mother said in her reflection on the event:Amongst so many memorable moments and displays of authentic youth leadership, something that stood out for me was one of the student speakers who closed with a quote from Angela Davis: ‘I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.’ While the fight for stronger gun laws will likely be a marathon rather than a sprint, I have no doubt that young people have the focus and persistence to see this through.”

Tags:  civic engagement  march for our lives  protest  reflection  service-learning  youth leadership  youth voice 

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