So how do you structure a service learning program? This is one of the earliest decisions that will be (or already has been) made at a school. And, as you probably guessed, no two service programs will be identical because no two schools work identically. Still - there are two main elements that can be found in just about any service programs structure. We'll explore both of those in this post.
How does the service learning program relate to the curriculum?
There are three (3) options here - all of which have their advantages and disadvantages. For now, let's just list the different directions you can go.
A course designed exclusively for service learning
A service program can be its own course in the curriculum. This structure clearly identifies the objectives and has 100% focus on the preparation, execution, and reflection of the service learning activities.
An assignment within a course
This option assumes that the service learning activity is done within a regular class (like Theology, Biology, etc) and it becomes the resonsiblity of the teacher to infuse the service component into the regular class content.
Club sponsors are the service leaders here. Activities are done after school hours and there is typically less structured conversations about their experiences.
Is it optional or required?
You could argue either direction. Perfectly sound arguments can be made for making a service program required or making it optional. Often times, a decision is made based on resources. Requiring all students (or a large number of students) can require significant resources to manage, although there are tools to help reduce that time (i.e. x2VOL).
Another factor is motivation. Students who choose to participate in service are more inclined to perform service in the future. Students who are apathetic or unwilling will usually not provide good service and even damage relationships with agencies.
A good balance between a requirement and optional goals may be ideal for most schools. For example, a class group may be required to engage in a small service learning project, and they can also work towards yearly (or multi-year) recognition such as a graduation coord, or an award that requires a much higher amount of service hours.