Utilizing the SVL Service-Learning Model

Envisioned by Citizen Action AmeriCorps members serving at Hands On Network, Seattle Works, and Boston Cares programs, the Service-Learning Model is one approach to using reflection to help students move toward civic engagement, even beyond their current volunteer service.

The SVL Service-Learning Model centers around a community issue and, through the use of reflection, helps students transform from citizens to volunteers to engaged citizens, and finally to campus and community advocates for civic participation, along a continuum of service and learning experiences.

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FROM STUDENT TO CITIZEN: The first step is connecting students to an issue. It may be a global issue, such as HIV/AIDS, or something closer to home, such as the neglected state of the playground in a neighborhood close to campus. It could be an issue that makes someone stop and think, or perhaps a news story that makes a person want to DO something. Often the strongest connection comes from a student being personally affected by an issue. The connection might come when a student walks to campus and sees the effects of poverty in the community, or crosses a bridge over a polluted river or stream.

Through reflection and education about the issue, you can help students recognize that they are citizens. No matter their backgrounds or affiliation, they should consider themselves an active and vital part of the community where they currently live. And as citizens, they have certain rights and responsibilities to act on the issues that affect them and their community.

FROM CITIZEN TO VOLUNTEER: The next step is mobilizing students through service. Use reflection to help students move from understanding that they are citizens to acting on that understanding. If they are connected to a particular issue, one form of action is volunteering. What are ways students can, through service, alleviate the impact this issue has on the community?

For SVL’s, this step includes: researching the issue, planning a project or a series of projects, and engaging other students in meaningful ways.

FROM VOLUNTEER TO ENGAGED CITIZEN: Reflection is the key to helping students move beyond volunteer service to deeper civic engagement. For example: Imagine that you’re about to do dishes in your kitchen sink; you have the stopper in the bottom and you’re filling the sink with water. The phone rings, so you stop what you’re doing and pick up the phone. Your friend needs a ride. You run out the door, inadvertently leaving the water running and the sink plugged. When you come home, the kitchen is flooding. What’s the first thing you’re going to do? Grab a mop? No, turn off the faucet. Often when we’re volunteering, we spend our time "mopping up the water" without addressing the fact that "the faucet is still running." Reflection as part of volunteering encourages students to explore why "the faucet is still running," and is the primary avenue for connecting service with greater civic involvement.

Reflection provides the structured time for volunteers to make the connection between the service they are providing and how it relates to larger social issues. Use reflection to help students investigate specific ways they can dive deeper into the issue. Each student’s action may be different. Some might choose to write letters to their local elected officials, while others lobby for stricter federal guidelines around their issue. Some students may sponsor a voter registration drive to ensure their community’s population is represented at the polls, and other students could stage an awareness campaign so that, when those community members go to the polls, they are informed and prepared to vote honestly on the issue. Although there are many definitions for civic participation, in this instance, let's define it simply as engaging in public problem solving. Civic participation can vary from campus to campus and from student to student.

FROM ENGAGED CITIZEN TO STUDENT ADVOCATE: Finally, the SVL Service-Learning Model cycles back to the students themselves. After they have had an intense service and civic action experience, it’s important to help them process what they’ve done and the impact they’ve had. More importantly, reflect with them to identify ways they can apply what they’ve learned. These students could become the campus’ strongest advocates for service and civic participation, particularly around their issue area.

This is the stage when students determine how they can take the global lessons they’ve learned and apply them in their everyday world. BreakAway, a national organization that uses alternative breaks as a method of creating a society of active citizens, calls this stage “reorientation.”

From campus to community, and back again, this model mobilizes students in meaningful ways and helps them reflect on their experiences to continue growing as active and engaged citizens. Let's look more closely at how to apply the SVL Service-Learning Model effectively...