By Julie Rogers Bascom, NYLC Director of Learning & Leadership
NYLC supports 14 states in the Statewide Afterschool Network with technical support, coaching, grants, trainings, and resources to develop or expand service-learning in afterschool programs in their state. These selected networks work collaboratively with each other and NYLC so that service-learning becomes a sustainable and systematic part of afterschool learning.
During the cohort’s monthly call in February, Mary Graham, Lead for Tennessee’s Afterschool Network (TAN), shared insight into how she supports, grows and uses service-learning as a strategy to bring benefits to Tennessee’s youth and youth workers. Wearing multiple hats, Graham says she was “interested in service-learning and how it builds character, leadership and academics. I view service-learning as a way to address other issues like obesity and the opioid crisis. I looked strategically as a way to combine efforts for more impact.”
Here are a few words of advice from a seasoned service-learning leader:
- Get the right people at the table. Look at who you have partnerships with and invite them to help you strengthen the efforts. Maybe it’s a steering committee, training partners or funding support – there are lots of resources out in the field to share and your team can help you access curricula, trainers, and data. Graham reminds us, “This also helps to align with existing efforts – align service-learning with other initiatives for strong impact.”
- Start early. Gather your team, strategize and plan for training and deep understanding which allows youth workers time to understand and organize. “We started training programs in March for a summer program and that wasn’t enough time.”
- Consider diverse pilots. What will work at one site won’t always work at another. Find where the interest is and support them to be successful
- Require an agreement of MOU with pilots. If a program is receiving free training, technical assistance and funding, regardless of how small, they need to commit to producing an outcome. This establishes a commitment to results and ability to track performance.
- Pilot sites needed ongoing technical assistance. Because there is so much staff turnover in out-of-school programs, ongoing training and support helps to ensure that workers have what they need to use service-learning with their youth.
- Educate. Educate. Educate. There is a difference between community service and service-learning. “You need to make sure leaders and partners and workers know what service-learning is, why to use it and what kind of outcomes it can bring. Tennessee has 8 hubs across the state and all of these hubs are required to know what service-learning is and how to use it.”
The benefits to service-learning are vast and varied but when service-learning is woven into a program’s fabric, youth enhance their academic, 21st Century, leadership, and social emotional skills because they are physically out in the community, making real change happen. It demonstrates that afterschool programs are developing the next generation of engaged and informed citizens who are ready to address community needs.
Thank you Mary, for being a leader in the out-of-school service-learning world.