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Service Learning has always been an integral part of CAS and the IB program. Current travel restrictions and physical distancing recommendations aside, COVID-19 has introduced a variety of new and urgent needs. Finding innovative ways to foster ethical Service Learning initiatives is as crucial as it has ever been.

Although many schools and educators initially had to overcome the obstacle of facilitating service that brings people together (when we’ve all been instructed to keep our distance), that apprehension is quickly dissipating as new strategies are developed. Remote and digital Service Learning opportunities are plentiful, and many are initiated by students who are eager to use their tech capabilities and communication aptitude to form valuable connections during their physical isolation. 

These efforts have proved that providing a balanced approach to experiential education, where there is equal focus on both service to the community and the learning that is occurring, can still exist in the age of COVID-19. Let’s take a look at the driving forces that inform meaningful Service Learning and how collaboration between the students, schools, and communities can continue to thrive. 

Service Learning should be a pre-planned and organized experience, with active student involvement in all project stages

First of all, it is important to remember that effective Service Learning’s foundational pillars still apply. Service Learning integrates purposeful community service or engagement into the curriculum and offers students academic credit for the learning that derives from active participation within the community. The learning process is bolstered through regular reflective practice and establishes the link between the service and an academic discipline. 

One of the most effective ways to ensure that remote Service Learning continues to fulfill these criteria is to establish a thorough Service Learning Calendar. This allows students to play an active role in the project from planning to assessment and to appreciate how their contribution fits into larger initiatives. 

It is also essential that, while operating within a framework, students have room for creativity. Students should be given the freedom to test out different kinds of community engagement and find their own ways to infuse Service Learning pedagogy with new meaning during this pandemic. 

Ideas for COVID-19 safe Service Learning

A good place for educators to start is by asking students to share the websites, social media platforms, and online service opportunities they are already engaged with and care about. Many young people have their own online communities and are able to localize and mobilize these technologies to help them achieve their service goals. They should also be encouraged to draw on existing partnerships or recent experience at virtual events or conferences

Examples of indirect, research-based, or advocacy-based service include: 

  • Advocacy within the school community, including working with students on civic engagement projects or projects that raise awareness or take action on sustainability and equality issues. The UN SDGs are an excellent place to start. 
  • Research, assessment, or evaluation in collaboration with an existing partner organization. 
  • Creating deliverables for a partner organization, such as digital media or social media content, print materials, logos, or handbooks.
  • Creating virtual educational materials such as webinars or streaming a presentation or performance.

Examples of direct service offered in a virtual or contactless setting include:

  • Tutoring or mentoring through video conferencing platforms.
  • Delivering meals or conducting check-ins over the phone.
  • Hosting or assisting with a virtual event for a partner organization.

Beyond COVID-19

The pandemic has presented an opportunity to rethink how we use Service Learning and to adapt Service Learning projects to address the most current and pressing issues in society. In order to get the most from the unprecedented times we are living in, students should be encouraged to embrace Service Learning as an opportunity to express optimism in the future and to push past the barriers of social distancing and remote interaction to envision a more just and equitable world.