When students engage in learning, they are more likely to care deeply, work harder, and achieve their goals. Drawing on the assets of a comunity – its history, culture, resources, and challenges – can help schools build citizens while infusing academic course work with meaning and relevance. Rather than diluting the school curriculum, community-based learning strategies increase the intensity of learning and the likelihood that young people will transfer knowledge and skills to new situations. By fostering student interest in their own communities, these strategies sow the seeds of lifelong learning. When students see themselves as citizens, they take responsibility for what happens to their neighborhoods, communities, and country. The end result? Learning that lasts well beyond the last test and a commitment to service that lasts a lifetime.
Community-Based Learning Strategies
Each of the following strategies has its own advocates and practitioners, history, and accomplishments. Separately, each brings a unique perspective and valuable resources to teaching and learning.
Academically Based Community Service connects the academic mission of universities and schools with the aspirations of the communities that surround them. At both the higher education institution and the public school, courses are designed – or redesigned – to focus on revitalizing the community. University faculty work with their public school colleagues to devise joint learning; university students enter schools as co-learners and role models for younger students; and university and school students share resources with each other.
Civic Education aims to prepare competent and responsible citizens. It advocates civic and political engagement and provides active learning experiences that connect students’ academic learning with civic involvement. The ideas and concepts emphasized are essential to constitutional democracy and highlight democratic concepts of relevance to students and their experiences.
Environmental Education capitalizes on children’s native curiosity – about the natural world and the social relationships they find there – by using the school’s surroundings and the community as a framework within which students construct their own learning. This strategy is not primarily focused on learning about the environment…it uses the environment…to give voice to students’ natural interests and prior knowledge.
Place-Based Learning uses the unique history, environment, culture, and economy of a particular place to provide a context for learning. Student work is directed toward community needs and interests, and community members serve as resources and partners in every aspect of teaching and learning.
Service Learning integrates community service with academic study to enrich learning, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.The service activity meets a community need identified by students. The activity is tied to academic goals and provides an opportunity for student reflection and celebration.
Work-Based Learning is a strategy that allows young people to spend time with adults – whether in a mentoring relationship, role model situation, or informational interaction – to learn about careers. Its aim is to make learning relevant by incorporating industry valued standards to inform curricula, by providing opportunities for contextual and applied learning, and by promoting program continuity from K–12 to post secondary education and training.
Coalition for Community Schools
Community-Based Learning: Engaging Students for Success and Citizenship