What does a reimagined Service Learning program look like for your school?

Our recent article explored the current state of Service Learning tours (also known as voluntourism) and the ethically grey areas that have emerged for school principals and executives in recent times.

Critically, we believe there is a broader way in which young people can contribute to the world, beyond traditional Service Learning programs such as village building activities and orphanage visits. We’ve heard many school leaders expressing their concerns about traditional Service Learning tours, where it may be the case that the tour does not meet its intended purpose of co-created learning between the school and the host community.

In response to this need, we have developed Community Learning Projects, which are aligned to the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals and have specific learning at their core. These tours allow schools and students to delve into some of the world’s greatest challenges. They are a modern evolution of traditional Service Learning programs, building resilience, leadership and inspiration in students.

In this article we will take a deeper dive into Community Learning Projects, focusing on what is involved; as well as some of the practical outcomes for students, teachers and schools.

What is involved?

Our aim is to design, in conjunction with your school, a one-of-a-kind program, which is aligned to your school’s vision and values. The beauty of this is that every Community Learning Project will be as unique as your school and student cohort! That being said, there are five ‘non-negotiable’ elements that each program will have in common:

  1. Aligned to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This provides critical structure to ethical student engagement with domestic and international communities. The goals define agreed priorities and aspirations to combat the economic, social and environmental challenges faced globally. The students will be able to choose those that they wish to focus on.
  2. Experiences are co-authored by students. This encourages young learners to take responsibility for their own learning, as well as facilitating collaboration with others to share control of shaping a new learning direction and experience. In conjunction with the school and relevant teachers, we will run a workshop outlining the exploration and research that the students need to do in order to look at potential locations and types of communities that interest them for their tour.
  3. Schools work closely with local NGOs. Students engage with the structural challenges of communities through communication and meetings with local NGOs already embedded on the ground. They will gain a deeper understanding of the host destination, and the people working from within these NGOs, assisting communities to make permanent change.
  4. Opportunity to develop long-term links to a community. Ideally, the program will run recurrently, as often as you wish, with as many groups as you like. This will allow your school to develop rich relationships over time and provide a genuine opportunity for the whole school community to support the chosen community.


You may discover NGO-led programs you wish to support through fundraising, for example, as well as have ongoing communication about the progress and success of the programs with which your school is involved

  1. Tour development and comprehensive pre- and post-departure support. Embedding the overseas learning experience into the school’s co-curriculum programs maximises learning outcomes for students. We develop your itinerary from the workshop outcomes and provide plans and activities that include pre- departure, in-country and post-overseas experiential learning activities, to support the Sustainable Development Goals and location/communities selected by your school. 

What benefits and learning outcomes can you expect?

In short – many! The benefits and outcomes for students, teachers and the wider school community are too numerous to list in this brief article, but the main ones can be summarised as follows:

Your school

Overall, your school can comfortably run this program as desired, knowing it is entirely ethical, with none of the grey areas noted in our previous article. The Executive team can be clear that the students have structured learning programs pre-, during and post-tour that relate to a set of goals that are accepted worldwide – the UN Sustainable Development Goals – in combination with a number of the General Capabilities.

The school can also use this community as a galvanising point from which to encourage other learning – about giving, fundraising and ongoing communication, for example – and by following the success of the programs in the community, you will know that their students understand how things happened, not just that they did.

Students

For students, there are multiple outcomes related to personal and social competence, as they confront challenges beyond their familiar environment and comfort zone. These experiences can help build a sense of self and personal identity, as well as increase independence, maturity, confidence and self-awareness. Many will appreciate the opportunity to be an ambassador for the school, and some will have increased awareness of future study and career opportunities.

Community Learning Projects help to build intercultural understanding and ethical understanding, encouraging students to move beyond stereotypical views and attitudes. They help students to develop a greater interest in global and international issues, thereby becoming stronger active global citizens.

Students will learn how communities are selected for assistance, why they are chosen, what programs are selected for the communities and why, how the programs are implemented and run, and the measurements of success that the programs are expected to meet. 

Overall, Community Learning Projects encourage much deeper learning and offer the opportunity for students to gain far more knowledge about how and why some programs succeed, while others fail.  While still giving students the chance to be involved with the community in need, there will be less of a feeling of groups going in to “help” by using building, teaching and other light activities, where genuine learning opportunities are thinner on the ground. 

The programs are robust in their learning offerings, so that students return with a real understanding and knowledge of the actual implementation of programs – from selection of a community, to program implementation and everything in between. This includes gaining an understanding of the difficulty of determining who gets assistance and who doesn’t, and how those decisions are made.

School executive and teaching staff

Community Learning Projects will help school executive groups and other teaching staff to broaden their professional skill set, as they learn about the Sustainable Development Goals in conjunction with students.

We will work with the school leadership and teachers to help students to select their Sustainable Development Goals and preferred locations for this experience. And while we will help facilitate the various workshops, ultimately the teacher will guide students through the process.

Moreover, executives and staff will gain valuable insight into how NGOs function and how they can best serve the community. They will learn first-hand all the steps required to implement and measure the  success of the various programs. 

Best of all, executive leaders will have peace-of-mind knowing their students are achieving real learning outcomes, rather than simply mingling with the community – as per traditional Service Learning experiences. 

School communities

Community Learning Projects should have a positive impact on the broader school community, particularly in terms of building a positive culture that promotes a sense of unconditional giving, belonging and inclusion. It should also support students’ personal growth, alongside defined learning outcomes.

We’ve also observed that long term school involvement with an overseas community can really  enhance connectedness between the students, the school “family”, the students’ families and the local community. This is thanks to the united interest in supporting the overseas community and by having a really important cause to which everyone is committed.

Knowing that any donations will go to the NGO managing a program gives peace of mind that it will be used in the best way possible.

Conclusion

With the 2022 school year upon us, now is the time to conduct a strategic review of your entire existing school touring program, including your old Service Learning Programs, and make forward plans for the coming year and beyond. Our Strategic Tour Review and Planning Consultation Service can help your school build a touring program that is:

  • Strategic, safe, ethical, educationally edifying and meaningful to engender true learning outcomes and support classroom teaching;
  • Curriculum-linked and customised for the school community;
  • Filled with subject-related, real-world experiential learning activities that really engage your students by exposing them to experts in the field and potential future careers;
  • Able to offer travel opportunities to a much wider student cohort, by combining subjects where appropriate and developing tours for all subjects that the school deems important;
  • Conscious of budget and ability of parents to spend money on something meaningful with robust learning outcomes.

To find out more, please contact us at Latitude Group Travel on 03 9646 4200 or go to our website and request a brochure here.

Related articles:

If you missed the previous articles in this series, you can catch up on them here:

6 reasons why now is the time to revolutionise your school touring program

COVID-Safe checklist: 5 questions to ask your educational travel partner

How the right touring partner can enrich and enhance classroom learning

Is an ad hoc touring program creating inconsistent student opportunities in your school?

How you can increase executive oversight of your post-COVID school touring program

Is it time to undertake a strategic review of your school’s touring program?

Why now is the time for schools to reimagine Service Learning and voluntourism experiences

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