Contact the Governor's
Office of Volunteerism
Governor's Office of Volunteerism
P.O. Box 456
Trenton, NJ 08625

Tel: (609) 633-9627
Fax: (609) 777-2939


Learn & Serve America - New Jersey

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Service-Learning - A Definition
In order to understand what service-learning is, we need to fully understand the definitions of the following: Community Service and Volunteerism.

Community Service, strictly defined, means volunteering done in the community. In a traditional community service project, the project is not necessarily led by a teacher, and would not necessarily be followed up with an open discussion or reflection session afterwards.

Volunteerism is usually defined as people who perform some service or good work of their own free will and without pay, such as the service performed by charitable institutions or community agencies.

Service-Learning is defined as a method under which students or participants learn and develop through active participation in thoughtfully organized service. Such service is conducted in and meets the needs of a community. It is coordinated among the community, an elementary school, secondary school, institution of higher education, or community service program; Service-Learning helps foster responsibility and is integrated into and enhances the academic curriculum of the students or the education components of the community service program in which the participants are enrolled. It also includes structured time for the students and participants to reflect on the service experience.

Service-learning provides an avenue for all types of communication before, during and after any project. A true service-learning program helps students understand how to channel their feelings. Service-learning is not a formal program but an educational process that involves students in learning experiences that relate service directly to academic subject matter, while at the same time involving students in making a contribution to their communities. It is a method of teaching and learning that combines a young person's academic curriculum with real-life experiences.

In service-learning programs, the learning is as important as the service. Furthermore, the service in itself emphasizes reciprocity, the exchange of both giving and receiving. The student doing the service and the person receiving the service benefit equally.

Not only are the learning and service components important, but they enhance and complement each other. For example, students might plan, prepare and serve lunch in a homeless shelter on a weekly basis as a part of their health education class. By creating and serving balanced meals, students not only learn nutrition basics, they also establish relationships with people different from themselves and gain an understanding of the conditions that lead to homelessness.

The Four Components of Service-Learning

There are four components of service-learning: preparation, action, reflection and recognition. A student must complete all four stages before the experience can allow the student to achieve the highest level of academic excellence and personal success. Service-learning accomplishes this by enhancing learning in the classroom and providing life-long civic consciousness, responsibility and self-esteem.


Preparation is the most important aspect of a service-learning program. In this stage, the students must develop a sense of ownership of the project, or it will not be as successful. Their involvement in all aspects of the planning is essential. Students also need to be provided the opportunity to analyze the needs of the community and seek out information. This may be done as simply as reading the newspaper, making telephone calls or visiting sites.

The preparation stage also includes specific training so that the students are ready for the outside world. Class discussion of what to expect is essential, especially if they are going to be working with people. It is sometimes worthwhile for outside professionals to come talk to the students about the situations that they might encounter out in the field. As the teacher, try to envision every scenario, and use role playing to practice conflict resolution and communication skills.


Service/Action involves actually performing the service planned. This could include picking up trash, planting a garden, visiting senior citizens or people in the hospital, tutoring/mentoring younger children, or a variety of other services which all include academic components.

Direct Service
(tutoring, mentoring, visiting the elderly)

Students Learn:

  • To be responsible for their own actions
  • To be dependable
  • To solve problems
  • To care for another person's life
  • To focus on the needs of others, and put one's own problems in context
  • To get along with people different from themselves

Indirect Service
(drives, collections, fundraisers, clean-ups)

Students Learn:

  • To work in a team - to cooperate
  • To develop team spirit
  • To play different roles in a group
  • To take pride in an accomplishment
  • To organize people to get a job done (recruitment)
  • To value working with others to solve problems

(lobbying, speaking, supporting)

Students Learn:

  • To articulate a concern and suggest solutions
  • To persuade people to act in a new way
  • To understand relationships among issues
  • To appreciate the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship
  • To appreciate the political process

Reflection is the third step to a service-learning program that can determine what kind of learning took place and can also help determine the success of the project. At this time there should be discussion about how the service makes the students feel and how they think the recipients are feeling about the service provided. There can be an independent journal or newspaper article written to better express their reactions to the program. Make certain that the children are aware of what they have done and the difference that they have made.

Recognition is the forth and final step to a service-learning program. In this step, recognition is the component of service-learning that recognizes students for their contributions, and also brings closure to an ongoing activity. There are many ways that this final component of service-learning can be implemented, such as, school assembles, certificates of achievement, special media coverage, pizza parties, and joint celebration with service recipients.

The Benefits of Service-Learning

The following highlights some of the many benefits that accompany a service-learning program. For students who feel isolated from the "real" world, service-learning brings them in contact with all kinds of people and situations that they do not necessarily meet within the four walls of a classroom. Also, community members begin to see the wonderful things that students can accomplish through local service-learning projects if given the chance. In addition, your school can become an even greater asset to the community.

Student Benefits connection to the community communication skills sense of responsibility and independence ability to take risks working with others self-worth/esteem and identity tolerance acceptance of challenges.

School Benefits enhanced student- teacher relations better teaching methods improved public relations school pride school becoming a positive change agent/problem solver positive attitudes children helping children improved academic atmosphere.

Community Benefits intergenerational cooperation student ties less problems with drugs, vandals, crime civility minded students cultural and racial harmony people sharing resources citizens conscious of environment team effort/pride.

Service-Learning = A win/win situation for everyone!