Primary Sources: Service-Learning Makes a Difference for At-Risk Youth

Photograph of paint-covered hands at work.

Ensuring Quality Service-Learning Experiences for At-Risk Adolescents” (abstract), The Prevention Researcher, Vol. 18, No. 1, February 2011.

What it's about: This study reviews the effectiveness of service-learning for youth engaged in risky behaviors and provides examples of two high-quality service-learning activities that were used in juvenile justice settings.

Why read it: Service-learning is often considered an activity reserved for youth who are already on a path to success. The authors of this study summarize research that shows that quality service-learning can have a huge impact on disaffected young people as well—enhancing self-esteem, building community mindedness, improving school connectedness and reducing teen pregnancy. In turn, adults begin to believe that these young people can change into contributing members of the community.

Biggest takeaway for youth workers: Service-learning works best for all young people – including those most at risk – when it meets high quality standards. The authors encourage youth programs to develop service-learning opportunities based on the National Youth Leadership Council’s K-12 service-learning standards. Those standards include:

  • Creating longer-term projects that require more frequent activity
  • Linking learning to school subjects (social studies, language arts, science)
  • Building partnerships with community members
  • Making service projects meaningful
  • Encouraging youth voice
  • Providing opportunities for reflection
  • Promoting diversity
  • Monitoring progress

Additional reference: The National Youth Leadership Council is a 20-year-old non-profit organization that promotes quality service-learning. Its K-12 Service-Learning Standards for Quality Practice are based on the strongest evidence, professional practice and input from youth and communities.

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children and Families. Go to the NCFY library for abstracts of this and other publications.)

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