A New Approach to Learning

In her high school statistics class, Danna Seigle needed a new way to take arcane formulas and make them tangible for her students. Instead of introducing the content as theoretical concepts, she charged her class with taking on a real issue within their school system: bullying at the nearby middle school.


Invested in the cause to curb bullying and equipped with data collected from the middle school, Seigle’s high school students came to her to for advice on how to interpret the data and construct effective solutions based on their findings. Suddenly, abstract statistics formulas had become tangible. They had meaning, and purpose.

Through partnership with the National Youth Leadership Council, transformation is happening in Henry County Schools just southeast of Atlanta, GA, where teachers and students are carving out a new approach to personalized learning – one that ties community service and volunteerism directly to classroom curriculum. In 2015 alone, 3,000 students were given the opportunity to consider their education in a contextual space. “It has been amazing to see the transformation of schools, teachers, and students. We have seen classrooms become places where teachers and students are working together to tackle vital issues in the community,” said Elizabeth Koenig, Professional Development Director at NYLC.

By developing this sort of youth-led volunteer capacity in school, students become more engaged. They better retain and appreciate what they learn because they are challenged to discover real-world applications for new knowledge. They cultivate a spirit of service that enhances their personal character and creates lifelong volunteers. Empowered by generous support from UPS, NYLC kindled this spirit in young people and adults alike at the 2015 National Service-Learning Conference®, an international gathering of over 1,200 change-makers dedicated to community-building.

This recipe for success has been at the fore of NYLC’s work for more than three decades. As a longtime supporter of NYLC, UPS has played a major role in introducing teachers, students, and school districts to learning strategies that are not only more effective, but directly serve the needs of the community. To truly know the needs of a community one must be a proud and engaged part of that community – an identity both NYLC and UPS pride themselves upon.

2016 National Service-Learning Awards: Dickson Award Honors Servant-Leader

The National Service-Learning Awards are an annual celebration of trailblazers in the fields of service-learning, education, community service, and youth leadership. They honor impactful leaders generating young leaders of conscience and character. Over the following weeks leading up to Educate. Ignite. Transform., the 27th Annual National Service-Learning Conference®, stay tuned to nylc.org for profiles of the honorees.

The recipient of the 2016 Alec Dickson Servant Leader Award is Paula J. Beugen. She has more than four decades of experience and expertise in the fields of volunteerism and community-change. In 2008, prior to passage of the 2009 Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, Beugen founded the Minnesota Serve America Committee — an independent public policy committee comprised of individuals and organization representatives seeking to maximize the impact of the Serve America Act in Minnesota. Current Committee priorities are advancing a service-learning bill in the Minnesota Legislature, furthering volunteerism and other community engagement public policy and advocating for greater balance in federal appropriations across Serve America Act programs, including restoration of Learn and Serve America.

NYLC’s Alec Dickson Servant Leader Award honors exemplary leaders who, by example, have inspired the service-learning field, have had a positive impact on the lives of young people, and have motivated others to take up the banner of service.

Earlier in her career, Beugen served as director of Avodah B’Yachad – Service Together at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas where 3,000 volunteers were mobilized and supported for the Jewish community’s part of an interfaith action initiative to strengthen families and neighborhoods. Her public service has included three terms on the Robbinsdale Area Schools Board of Education and 11 years on the staff of the Minnesota Office on Volunteer Services.

“I am deeply touched to have been selected for the Alec Dickson Servant Leader Award. It represents and is a reflection of the efforts of the many dedicated and passionate leaders with whom I have been honored to share in this work. When you serve in the volunteerism and service-learning communities you cannot help but be inspired to do more by the ideals, energy, and accomplishments of those who surround you,” said Beugen. “This is an honor that I hope in some way will advance our collective field and especially the difference it makes in the lives of children, youth, and all people and communities.”

Register for #SLC16 at servicelearningconference.org.

Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King by Advancing Education Equity

From Emily Uecker, AmeriCorps Promise Fellow, Youth Initiatives

On the Friday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, many faculty, staff, and students from Hamline University in St. Paul took time from what would normally be a day off from classes to serve their community. This year, NYLC was happy to host eight participants at our office.

These volunteers participated in a Youth4Education workshop, having awesome conversations around what about the education system gets them fired up and how they think K-12 youth view the system. They were clearly passionate about education equity and discussed some strategies to promote equity, bringing up issues such as the way teachers, students, and districts are affected by standardized testing and the negative impact of zero-tolerance policies.

We discussed the current dropout rates in Minnesota and reasons youth choose to drop out, such as a lack of confidence and determination or a lack of purpose in their school involvement, and how these behaviors often occur long before the student reaches high school. We focused on this as our local issue because this is the focus of the overall Promise Fellow program that sponsors two AmeriCorps members at NYLC each year. The rest of the time was spent making cards for students at the middle school closest to Hamline that included inspirational messages for the students to show that there are adults out there that care and believe in their ability to succeed in school. These cards will be given to students that have been identified as at-risk of dropping out via the Promise Fellow at the school.

Hamline Service Cards

Helping to plan and carry out this experience was exciting. A lot of my work surrounds Youth4Education, so it is always great to hear why others are fired up about education equity. As a Promise Fellow, I often hear about Grad Minnesota and early intervention strategies to prevent high school dropout in Minnesota, but this is rarely part of my direct work at NYLC. It was nice to finally bridge these two worlds and coordinate something that addresses the dropout crisis while supporting Youth4Education. What was most exciting about this project is that I got hands-on experience in developing a service-learning project focused on advancing education equity in a local community, and one that was executed in under two hours at that!

Although it might seem small, just think if hundreds of groups did short projects across the country – it would add up to thousands of hours focused on advancing education equity! To me, this is what Youth4Education is all about: Youth standing up and doing what they can to share their voice and take action. Whether the project is short- or long-term, direct service, or advocacy-focused, it all adds up to youth creating more equitable education for all.

Essentials of Service-Learning

You’re 20 days in. Ready to give up on those New Year’s Resolutions?

We know how it is. The first few weeks of January can feel like an eternity. You’re sore from exercising in over-packed gyms. You’re dying for a platter of greasy nachos, but the closest you’re allowed to eat are kale chips.

Don’t throw in the towel just yet.

Stay committed to self-improvement and sign up for our brand new online course…

Essentials of Service-Learning


Dates: March 7 – April 29, 2016

In this 100% online, eight-week course, we will answer questions relevant to novice and intermediate service-learners alike:

  • What is service-learning?
  • Why should I use it?
  • How do I plan a successful service-learning unit?

Join the course by visiting nylc.org/store. This spring’s course is offered at a reduced introductory rate of $149, so seize the opportunity before prices go up!

For a limited time only, receive a FREE COPY of Getting Started in Service-Learning when you register for the online course Essentials of Service-Learning by February 24 (that’s Flag Day for those of you keeping track). A $15 value right up front. Win-win! Questions of any kind? Email gsn@nylc.org.

We can’t promise a beach body by summer, but we can provide thoughtful professional development for those looking to break out of their usual rut — and make 2016 count.

Why Big Days Matter

#MLKDay was Monday, and it’s one of the biggest service days of the year. Meanwhile, those in our field know that the impact of service-learning is contingent upon adequate duration to effectively address community needs and drive home learning outcomes. So in the world of service-learning, where projects can last weeks or months, do big days matter?

They sure do. Here’s why:

Big days raise awareness. A kickoff event can garner attention and engage new participants or stakeholders — which can propel your project in a real way.

Big days rally support. An expo or fair can introduce people to your cause, so there may be fewer hurdles to jump as your project becomes a larger presence in the community. These events can help drive donations or attract volunteers, as others get swept up in the excitement.

Big days break up the monotony. Field trips and activity days add a little excitement to a project that, perhaps, sees most of its work done inside the four walls of a classroom.

Big days reward participants. When a project is wrapping up, it’s important to celebrate and showcase all that’s been accomplished. By recognizing participant contributions, you double down on their buy-in, cultivating future supporters.


Some projects have only one “Big Day” — the day of action, after all the planning, and all the anticipation, when the service activity takes place. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A good service-learning project should be punctuated by several big, wonderful, exciting days. For all the reasons illustrated above and more — because big days matter.

The Reality of Unsafe Driving Behavior

Dalton Madden, a senior at New Foundations Charter School in Philadelphia, Pa., stands in front of a packed assembly. Convened by New Foundations’ Project Ignition Team, this assembly’s purpose was to allow a space for the team to educate about the danger of distracted driving behavior and the importance of proper seatbelt usage. Dalton, having been involved in a tragic car accident that claimed the life of a fellow student in 2013, was inspired to tell his story, bravely, in front of his gathered peers, to bring home the reality of vehicular accidents. “I joined the Project Ignition Team because I wanted to spread awareness about the importance of safe driving, and to potentially save someone the pain and tragedy that I had to deal with. I lived through a devastating experience and I hope to change at least one person’s habit to put on a seatbelt so that they don’t live through the same,” said Dalton.

nfcs pi 3

The assembly wasn’t purely for presentation, however. The PI team presented facts about distracted driving and seatbelt usage, engaging their peers to contemplate the numbers and the reality of unsafe driving behavior. In fact, the assembly was a culmination. The PI team at New Foundations was recognized by State Farm’s Celebrate My Drive competition as one of the top 100 national finalists, a result of a body of work that successfully engages youth to change. If chosen, New Foundations will receive a $100,000 grant to continue teen driver safety education and other general education needs.

In partnership with NHTSA, NYLC and Project Ignition are working to change how youth use and view seatbelts. At PI schools like New Foundations, youth are leading service-learning projects that engage habits and organically challenge their peers to change their unsafe driving behavior. New Foundations’ PI Team wrote a pledge for each homeroom to sign onto and display in their classrooms as a daily reminder of their commitment: “I pledge to wear my seatbelt each and every time I enter a vehicle, as a driver or a passenger. I will do my best to keep myself and others safe while driving.” All twelve homerooms committed to the pledge.

nfcs pi 1

“I’m part of the PI team because I feel it’s right to promote the importance of safe driving. This group made me realize how amazing young people are, just by coming together to work to solve a really important issue,” said New Foundations’ student Hayley Burke.

Learn more about Project Ignition.

4 Ways to Jumpstart Your Service-Learning Year

What’s your New Year’s Resolution? Maybe you want to be healthier, or cut down on screen time. Or maybe you want to focus on helping others have a great year. Resolutions are easier to keep with partners to hold you accountable, so it’s with this in mind we offer four ways to jumpstart a year of service-learning with your group or classroom.


Journaling is useful in the early stages of service-learning to gain insight into how much students know about given topics before a project gets rolling. Journaling also helps gather information about student skills and confidence, and can continue throughout the project as a means of student reflection.


2. Create a Big Idea.

Big Ideas are important and enduring concepts, principles, theories, and processes (Understanding by Design, 1998). In short, a Big Idea is a theme on which a service-learning project is based. (Think Global Warming, the Achievement and Opportunity Gap, or Poverty in the United States – but don’t limit yourself. This is a Big Idea after all.) When closing in on a Big Idea, test it against these questions:

  • Can your Big Idea be applied across grade levels?
  • Will your Big Idea matter to youth after the project ends?
  • Is your Big Idea useful outside of school?

3. Go on a WalkAbout.

A WalkAbout involves making a map of your school neighborhood, and is a great way for students to understand authentic community needs. During the WalkAbout, students should answer these questions:

  • Are there safe places for children to spend time after school?
  • Do they sense tensions among neighbors?
  • What problems or issues do they find in the neighborhood?

If January is too frigid a time to take your class outdoors, use Google Maps (or go old school with hand-drawn maps!) to visualize your neighborhood and help brainstorm.

4. Create SMART Goals.

SMART Goals help identify the most important aspects of a service-learning project (The Power of Smart Goals, 2005). SMART goals should be:

  • Specific: Lay out what you will do and how will you do it as clearly as possible.
  • Measurable: Decide how you will know if your project was a success.
  • Attainable: Be realistic about goals and make sure everyone is on the same page.
  • Relevant: Focus on authentic needs and stay true to your Big Idea.
  • Tangible: Make sure results are visible to community stakeholders.

So there you have it: four ways to hit the ground running in 2016. As always, more project planning resources can be found in The Generator – NYLC’s project planning tool – at gsn.nylc.org/plan. Happy Service-Learning!

One for the Books

End-of-year is a unique time for reflection. Looking back on all that we at NYLC have accomplished in 2015 is not only exciting, but also productive and necessary; much like in quality service-learning, reflection is crucial to growth and paves the path to understanding, perspective, and progress.

In 2015, we launched the Generator, a project planning tool designed to help you build your service-learning project with quality. “The Generator wasn’t an original idea on our end. It was a direct response to user feedback. Members wanted a tool that would teach and guide them but still allowed for some creativity and self-direction – and I think we delivered that,” said Marcus Penny, Web Communications Manager.

With our Youth Advisory Council at the helm, we launched Youth4Education, a youth-led campaign to advance education equity through service-learning. Youth4Education advocates for youth to take an active role in their education. The launch of #Youth4Ed merged with the return of the National Youth Leadership Training in July, where young people from around the world underwent seven days of training to emerge as official Youth4Education Lead Activists. Equipped with the knowledge, tools, and inspiration to return to their home communities and affect change, #Youth4Ed Lead Activists are working to improve that which they’re passionate about.

Our District-wide model integrated into two new schools districts, wrapping unique academic goals within a framework of service-learning and youth leadership. “It has been amazing to see the transformation of schools, teachers, and students over the last year. We have seen classrooms become places where teachers and students are working together to tackle vital issues in the community,” said Elizabeth Koenig, Professional Development Director.

As 2016 is born, NYLC has much on the horizon. We are hosting Educate. Ignite. Transform., the 27th Annual National Service-Learning Conference, in Minneapolis, Minn., March 30 – April 2. Join us for the largest gathering of youth and adults dedicated to changing the world through service-learning.

In partnership with NHTSA, we are moving Project Ignition forward in new and exciting ways, building tools for schools to tell their stories and demonstrate how they are saving teen lives through safe driving best practices, headlined by proper seatbelt usage.

We are also developing new partnerships with schools to implement our District-wide model, and we are launching a series of service-learning courses designed to change the way you conceive true student engagement.

As 2015 comes to a close, we’re thankful for the support of friends and partners that made our year successful, and thrilled for the future. To support this continuing mission, make your tax-deductible donation to NYLC today.


From the NYLC family to yours,
Happy New Year.

Amy Meuers Named as NYLC Interim CEO


AmyST. PAUL, Minn. — The National Board of Directors for the National Youth Leadership Council is pleased to announce that Amy Meuers has been named as the Interim Chief Executive Officer as of January 1, 2016. Meuers has served with NYLC for more than 12 years, with increasing leadership roles. She currently serves as NYLC’s Chief Operating Officer.

The Board thanks Kelita Svoboda Bak for her five years of dedicated leadership and service to NYLC. Bak followed NYLC Founder and CEO Jim Kielsmeier, becoming the second CEO in the organization’s 33 year history in January of 2011. She will step down as of the end of 2015. “Kelita Bak has provided outstanding leadership to NYLC during a time of increasing change in the field of education and service-learning. Her keen insight and organizational abilities have kept NYLC at the forefront of service-learning practice and policy. We are confident that under Amy Meuers’ capable leadership, NYLC’s activities and programs will continue to flourish,” the Board said.

This is an exciting time as NYLC looks to build on its long-standing, high-quality programs, professional development, national convenings, and youth-adult governance partnerships. The Board will ensure that the organization adopts the best strategy to meet its mission and goals and is positioned for strength and sustainability for the future.

Download the press release.

A Model School Day

Attention! Early bird registration for Educate. Ignite. Transform. ends this Friday, December 18. Prices will never be lower again, so don’t miss out! Register here.

We wanted this year’s conference to feel like your dream school — one where young people are treated as equal partners and educators as thoughtful collaborators. As such, we’ve modeled our schedule after a school day.

  • A Pep Rally will kick things off, getting you into the conference spirit.
  • Recess, Physical Education, and Study Hall sessions will support the physical and educational needs of all attendees.
  • School is very much a social occasion, and this “school day” experience will be no different. Organizations will connect with attendees in the Opportunity and Resource Fair. Attendees will connect with one another in a youth-led Speed Networking event. Go even deeper on-site by following the hashtag #SLC16 on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Classroom sessions will explore new topics with experts in the field, offer insight and ideas, and share project successes. The pre-conference session “A Day in the Life of a Service-Learner” will guide K-12 educators and youth workers to begin adopting service-learning as a teaching and learning strategy with youth.
  • General Assemblies will honor youth and adults from the field, and feature talented performers and keynote speakers.

NYLC is proud to present the keynote speaker for Educate. Ignite. Transform. — educator and human rights activist Naomi Tutu.


“Naomi Tutu is a powerful example of women making a difference in the world,” said NYLC’s Chief Operating Officer Amy Meuers. “The educators, students, and community leaders attending the event will have an amazing opportunity to learn a great deal from Tutu.”

Tutu is the third child of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nomalizo Leah Tutu. The challenges of growing up black and female in apartheid South Africa have been the foundation of Nontombi Naomi Tutu’s life as an activist for human rights. Those experiences taught her that our whole human family loses when we accept situations of oppression and how the teaching and preaching of hate and division injure us all. In her speeches she blends this passion for human dignity with humor and personal stories.

These are just a sampling of the goings-on at #SLC16 — a model school day experience designed for you. Visit servicelearningconference.org for more information.