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“Planting the Seeds of Service (While Learning)!”

News-Herald Guest View

September 23, 2010
Gerald F. Schnepf, Executive Director, Keep Iowa Beautiful
During World War II citizens of all ages – young and old alike, pitched in to help the war effort in many ways. One of those ways was to help collect everything from metal to milkweed pods for manufacturing products for the war effort. Rationing of gas, rubber and certain foods was the accepted way of life. That effort might be considered the ultimate concept of “service”.

Today – service efforts focused on “Green” concepts for improving the environment and encouraging the idea of “sustainability” are gaining momentum i.e. clean ups, recycling, reduction, carbon footprint reduction efforts, etc. Combined with those early efforts of service in WW II the idea of joining “service” and “learning” together has come to be an important element with our citizens and in a number of the schools – public and private.

“Service Learning” is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service connected with the school curriculum in a “hands on” manner guided by both instruction and reflection. Schools / colleges are in a perfect position to integrate the concepts of service learning in their educational charge of “civics and social commitment” and in building “character qualities” in individuals.

The earlier the idea of “doing something to help others and the community” is ingrained in our youth today the more likely these concepts will become adult values and practiced more frequently as an adult in our communities. A greater sense of pride, civic participation and a commitment to meaningful value occurs. Research on this subject indicates that if a youth is meaningfully involved in their community through service learning and subsequently leaves the area for various reasons, the potential for that individual to return to the community later in life increases three times. Other benefits include:

Tying the basic components of academics to real life experiences

Students becoming a part of the learning process – not the object of learning

•Tying schools to communities

•Building enthusiasm for both learning and community

•Increasing citizenship skills

•Engaging students

•Increasing the educational standings of the school

•Improving critical thinking

•Teaching teamwork and communications

•Providing improvements to the community

•Increasing a sense of ownership in the community

•Increasing student academic performance

This is the kind of investment that Iowa needs to make for its youth. Support and encouragement to schools and colleges to establish formal service learning programs with either an optional choice to enroll in the program or in some cases as a requirement for graduation need to be emphasized. A number of Iowa High Schools have a program entitled a “Silver Braid or Silver Cord Program”. Students commit to 150 to 200 hours of service to the community. On graduation those students voluntary enrolled in the program are allowed to wear the silver cord on their graduation robes. It is a sense of pride and honor for all students who earn silver cords just like the gold honor cords for honor students.

Programs can be initiated earlier in school – even at the K – 2 level through simple efforts like planting a flower or picking up a piece of litter. Efforts like that benefit the community, provide the basic core curriculum needs of civic responsibility and by giving the youth a sense of being a part of the community with a great feeling of pride.

Giving back to the community and country through “service learning” is a basic opportunity that we need to make sure all citizens experience. Help “plant the seed” in our youth today by asking your school or college if they have a service learning program for students.

Gerald F. Schnepf, Executive Director

Keep Iowa Beautiful


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