Educating Through Service

This weekend, I along with 29 other young people will give away five million dollars. Our goal: to help solve our nation's education problem by integrating service into the school curriculum.

Academic service-learning is a teaching method where teachers work with students to research a community problem and then attempt to solve it with community service, using concepts aligned with state standards. It is a practice that addresses two of the leading education problems and creates better citizens.

The first education problem academic service-learning addresses is keeping students in school. Only 72% of our students graduate from high school and only 39.3% of Americans graduate from college. These dismal graduation rates are part of the reason why there are currently 3.4 million unfilled jobs in the United States.

The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation found that 47 percent of high school dropouts said classes were not interesting and an even larger 81 percent said that there needed to be an increase in "real-world" learning opportunities.

Academic service-learning makes school interesting by putting real world projects into the curriculum, showing students the relevance of what they are learning.

One of my favorite examples is the Service Learning for Educational Distinction (SLED) project at New Mexico State University. The SLED project allows undergraduate education majors to tutor students in the Las Cruces Public Schools. The undergraduate students see the relevance of their education while helping raise the academic achievement of their community.

Keeping students in school by making classes more interesting is just the first step in fixing our education system. The second is preparing students for the 21st century workforce.

Goldman Sachs recently reported that since 1970, over 2 billion people have entered the global workforce, doing the same jobs Americans are for cheaper prices. This has lead the New America Foundation to find that middle income jobs have decreased from 52% of the workforce in 1980 to 42% in 2010.

Our education system can no longer just teach to the test. We must out innovate our competition and prepare our students for the 21st century by teaching our students the three C's.

The Harvard Center for Technology and Entrepreneurship defines the three C's as Creativity, Collaboration, and Critical thinking. Academic service-learning teaches all three.

Academic service-learning asks students to use critical thinking to identify a problem and figure out its root cause. Then it asks students to creatively develop a solution, which they will act upon through service. Finally, students will learn how to collaborate since they are working together on their research and service.

Take ReNEW Charter School in New Orleans, LA where students investigated the problem of pollution near their campus. They then conducted scientific tests of the soil and the water and visited the local landfill, learning about human impact on their ecosystem. The students then proposed a number of solutions and implemented the first ever district-wide recycling program.

Finally, academic service-learning provides a hands-on approach for teaching civic education. An important impact considering how almost 40% of Americans fail our own citizenship test.

If we are to be successful as a country in the future we must invest more than the State Farm Youth Advisory Board's five million dollars in academic service-learning.

With the elimination of funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service's Learn and Service America program, fantastic academic service-learning programs like YSA's Semester of Service program go unfunded.

We need to invest in our students and educate them through service.