Verified Service Learning Feeds the “Whole Student”
Teachers and schools and school districts track grades. We all know, or can find out pretty easily, what mark a particular student made on a specific assignment or in a class. Generally, educators are meticulous about such things.
There are many good reasons to have a similar system to track what students are doing outside of school too.
Foremost is that young people really benefit from diverse experiences and learning environments – they see and do things that simply cannot be replicated in a classroom. That’s an essential ingredient in the “whole student” approach to education which incorporates things such as maturity, emotional intelligence, discipline and community engagement with traditional academic metrics to paint a more complete and robust assessment.
Further, when students see that their grades and conduct are tracked and recorded with hyperattention and there’s nothing even remotely similar for service, they infer what’s really important. If schools want their students involved more deeply in their communities, if that’s important, schools may need to invest in systems and procedures that reflect that importance. Just saying it’s important may not be enough.
Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) in Virginia is convinced. FCPS, like many other states and districts, agrees that service learning is an important part of an education and invested in making student service experiences a prominent piece of their education mission. For example, FCPS Portrait of a Graduate places an emphasis developing skills, such as Ethical and Global Citizenship, so students can be successful in the workforce of the future.
But in doing that, they could not simply dump a renewed focus on community engagement on their teachers and other school personnel. No district can.
So, Fairfax utilized x2VOL to do for service learning what learning management systems (LMS) do for academics – even more, in fact. Like an LMS, x2VOL can track progress and assess learning outcomes but can also create a permanent, verifiable service record, like a service transcript. And do that in a way that makes the process simpler, more effective and efficient for students, teachers, counselors and the community organizations.
According to Mallory Joiner, the Service Learning Resource Teacher for the Fairfax County Public Schools, it’s working. “We’re now able to see that students are engaging in diverse types of experiences in our communities,” she said. “And while that could have been the case before, each school was tracking in a different way, with different criteria and with different emphasis. Now we do things like share ideas and opportunities school to school and tie those service opportunities to school curriculum in a way that was impossible before.”
“It’s nice,” she said, “because students can not only record their hours but find new opportunities and teachers can create opportunities for students – not just finding, but creating those experiences for others.”
School personnel like it too, according to Joiner, because x2VOL isn’t just a numeric counter. It prompts students with school-approved reflection questions about their service, supports students with finding service opportunities that align with their career goals and interests, and automatically sends verification e-mails to the community leaders for their one-click verification or for added comments. Students and community groups can even add photos or other notes. And, once approved, the completed record goes to the school for approval and inclusion in the student’s permanent record of service.
Having a permanent, verified service record can be important and far easier when students apply to colleges. But the service record also helps districts and states recognize and incentivize service achievements, as Virginia does with the special Virginia Board of Education diploma seal for excellence in civics education, which requires at least 50 hours of community service.
For Fairfax and other districts, a community service management system like x2VOL is a giant leap forward from telling students volunteering was important but leaving the entire process, from finding opportunities to recording them, to them. At best, that system was a disconnected, disorganized afterthought whereas now it can be a highly connected part of the education experience – not just connected within the school but connected to it and the community.
Knowing exactly what a student did in their community, for how long, at what level and what they took from those experiences is an obvious game changer for mentors, counselors, teachers and colleges who understand the value of out-of-school service. But it’s also every bit as important for the school leaders who are engaging, supporting and challenging students today. With tools like x2VOL, teachers who review a student’s service can connect in-class assignments with life experiences and suggest related areas of study or assignments that can open eyes and new career paths. Counselors can discover and support hidden student interests and passions. Or merely offer words of encouragement.
Schools may never get to the point where community service is as important as academics. But many, like Fairfax, are doing more to stress that service is important in its own way – making those opportunities more visible, more accessible, more connected to learning, easier to manage and more rewarding.