Service Learning: one mission of Catholic Schools

Forming our future
By Paul Artman
The Catholic school principal is constantly bombarded with community requests for volunteer help. While we are always pleased to assist the communities we serve, the wise educator, and parent for that matter, should always insist on a learning component associated with service.
The Catholic school is a profoundly academic institution, but an institution nevertheless rooted in the Gospel values. These values mandate that we shall serve our Lord, his people, and his society.
Jesus lived a life of service and likewise, he called each of us to follow him in a life of service all manifested in a true giving spirit of love and humility. Service learning has now moved beyond a “buzzword” and profoundly into the curriculum at most levels of education. Catholic schools were the first to include service into curricula standards, and consequently Catholic schools have shared the best opportunity to refine this principle of education.
This long-standing mission of Catholic education has now become the norm in education. While service on face value and at any level is valuable, the Catholic experience teaches that service learning should lead to servant leadership, and ultimately to the integration of service as human nature. Our Catholic schools teach so that the fruit of our labors significantly strengthens the futures of our academic, vocational, and service lives.
How can service become second nature? The elevation of corporal works to a honed and skillful second nature of service begins with a plan. This plan includes being authentically Catholic in spirit, matching the curricula standards, and elevating service to a meaningful level for all concerned. Simple concepts in service are valuable, but are much more meaningful when developed into a lasting plan of action. In other words, whom and how do I serve in order to make an impact? This is why we encourage students striving for the next level of scholarship and service to create their own innovative methods of service.
This often means the creation of one’s own service charity and the incorporation of others as volunteers. This indeed makes a powerful statement when a youth conceives and “owns” an important avenue of service to the benefit of many other people.
In the school setting thoughtful service to others must be integrated into the curriculum, supervised by competent adults, and mastered through a reflective activity. Critical thought and a writing activity best serve the aftermath of a service project. What did I observe, whom did I encounter, why was the activity beneficial or not, and how can this service component better serve my fellow man and the community at large? These questions beg for an answer that will allow the service cycle to continue and be enhanced.
Technology and a commitment to community service since 1888, have afforded Greenville St. Joseph School an exceptional opportunity for new avenues of service. The school has introduced a Google Chromebook Initiative funded through grants from the Catholic Foundation and the King’s Daughters and Sons Circle Number Two. This program will be utilized to develop a community-based student initiative designed to identify, research, and propose solutions for current local issues.
This will allow St. Joseph to enhance our Catholic education curriculum focusing on (STREAM) Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts, and Math. The effort shall move across curricula lines. Utilizing exciting new technology, this effort will readily support students with web resources used for research and critical thought. Service can even be high-tech.
Ultimately through all our service, we hope for the emergence, and eventual sustainability, of morally guided Christian witnesses. We do not strive to merely fill empty work billets with able bodies. Rather, we can mold interested young people who will take a service opportunity and allow it to build a lifetime of meaning for themselves and those they so willingly serve. There are many other benefits to service learning including integrated learning, collaboration, and social responsibility.
A quality service learning opportunity also produces a broad range of work experiences, evaluative concepts, and a student voice in matters of community import.
All in all, servant leadership makes for better learning, better people, better communities, and better Christians. Our service should prove that we can learn from all whom we encounter and in all circumstance. Thank you to Catholic schools and our patrons for the basis and legacy for service learning in today’s society.
(Paul Artman, Ed.S., has been the principal at Greenville St. Joseph School for nine years.)