Rob Shumer, University of Minnesota

Recently the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the Rockefeller Foundation, and Cities of Service announced 10 cities selected to pilot Resilience AmeriCorps.  The 10 Resilience AmeriCorps cities will receive $25,000 and AmeriCorps VISTA members to increase civic engagement and community resilience in low-income areas, and help local leaders plan for and address environmental and sustainability issues.his action indicates that the US Government and major US foundations are getting serious about creating programs to address the environment. The time is now to build capacity around efforts that educate and prepare all Americans to take action for a more environmentally friendly world.

In educational circles, the Green Schools National Network (GSNN) is doing its part to instill in young people a passion for the environment, and to develop leadership skills that will enable them to take action in their schools to make them healthier and more sustainable. By working from a foundation of five core practices, from developing curriculum that advances environmental literacy and sustainability; to developing stewardship and service-learning; to developing good health and well-being; and to creating strong partnerships and networks, GSNN is making change happen.

GSNN’s second core practice, service-learning, is of critical importance to the green schools movement and to the creation of programs that make a difference. Many programs in schools provide community service, where young people help out in the community doing food drives, raising funds, and performing services that improve life for people who live there. But community service doesn’t usually require much training; it can be done periodically throughout the year, and usually does not do much to measure impact. The assumption is that doing service is simply good for the community.

But service-learning goes beyond community service. It engages young people in not only providing a service, such as growing food for a food pantry, but in integrating service as a part of their academic learning, connecting lifelong understanding with civic acts of community work. Service-learning is based on the notion of reciprocal learning, that those who provide service to the community can also learn important things from the community itself.   It is based on mutual respect between servants and community members, and on the early identification of community needs….doing what community members feel is important to improve their community. Service-learning depends on strong partnerships between schools/universities and communities, where contact and collaboration are constant. And service-learning involves continuous assessment for all participants to ensure that both learning and service are occurring throughout the entire effort.

In a service-learning program, students might start with developing a community garden to meet the needs of a food system by supplying a local food pantry with fresh vegetables and fruits. But that is only the beginning. The students would work with community members to find out what kinds of food they prefer and engage with local gardeners to find out which kinds of plant grow and thrive. They would study principles of botany as they grew plants, principles of chemistry, physics, and science as they developed water supply systems and prepared soil for planting and harvesting. They would study economics as they produced markets for food and learn issues of civics as they studied how food sources where transferred to communities and managed by government. They would study human physiology as they developed nutritional guides for eating and learn about international cultures as they produced food sources that were used in other countries and societies. In essence, they would use project-based learning as the primary methodology to learn about food, its preparation and distribution, and the impact and use in society of sustainable sources of food and drink.

Service-learning research is clear: high quality programs produce the best results. Programs that involve youth in identifying and meeting community needs; involve youth and community members in the development, implementation, and assessment of the program; and encourage interactions that promote diversity of interaction and thought produce vibrant educational opportunities for engaged learning and positive outcomes. Research on high impact practices in college (Kuh, 2009) indicate that service-learning is one of the major strategies for student engagement and good learning. At the K-12/secondary school level, studies of school engagement and dropout prevention programs (Bridgeland, et al.2006; Bridgeland, et al, 2008) indicate that service-learning and internships/career technical education would keep kids in school and engage them in useful civic action and meaningful education. Other order generic ambien online studies show that service-learning affects all levels of behavior: cognitive, affective, and social (Billig, 2007).

There are lots of great examples of service-learning efforts highlighted by GSNN. One such model exists in Minnesota, where a large construction company, Retail Construction Services, Inc. developed an educational program with local schools to address issues of hunger and adequate food sources for the community, especially poorer individuals ( They turned part of their corporate headquarters into a Teaching Giving Garden, and started producing food to donate to a local food pantry. They had some of their own employees volunteer to help with the planting and food production, and then offered collaborations through the local Master Gardener program at the University of Minnesota Extension Service to increase the opportunity for learning at the garden and in the schools.

“The Teaching Giving Garden is used as a full circle service-learning teaching environment, involving children from across the St. Croix Valley who not only learn about gardening, but make a connection to the world by learning where their food comes from, its impact on everything from fossil fuels, the collapse of the honey bee, water conservation, food storage, harvesting seeds, composting, and so many other lessons.  In addition, they experience first-hand the spirit of service. To date The Teaching Giving Garden has donated more than 15,000 pounds of food and added a teaching kitchen to Valley Outreach Food Shelf to help community members learn how to grow, cook, and eat healthier. This year they have a goal of donating 3000 lbs of food, launching a site at the garden to teach urban gardening alternatives for those who do not have a large plot of land, and starting a program where seniors are planting and harvesting along with students, to give intergenerational perspectives.”


The original program has expanded to include several new initiatives, including

  • Adopting curriculum from the Environmental Protection Agency to cover applied science and social studies projects.
  • Exposing students to careers available in the community. Companies and community agencies provide opportunities to have students visit worksites, interact with employees through internships and mentorships, and discover that sustainable futures, careers, and service are all interconnected. Service-learning models can make community-based learning a holistic approach to education, fulfilling all the needs of the students and the community.
  • Participating in the Green Apple Days of Service, where other companies host a series of events that feature youth in service to the earth. Green Apple Day of Service gives youth, parents, teachers, school staff, companies, and organizations the opportunity to help transform schools into healthy, safe, cost-efficient, and productive learning places through community-based service projects in stewardship to the earth. The Minnesota Green Schools Coalition highlights Green Apple Day of Service projects throughout the year. It has become a major source of academic learning for the students as they study math, science, social studies, Language Arts, and art through agricultural and environmental projects.


Beautiful Day, Beautiful Kids, Beautiful 124 Pound Harvest!



Initiatives from major foundations, the US government, and private businesses indicate that the world is getting serious about sustainable, healthy environments. Collaborations between schools, communities, and businesses through service-learning and experiential, project-based educational programs are creating the kind of schools and youth that will work to ensure a healthy, secure, and safe world in the future. We need to continue to expand our efforts and take the Green Schools movement more into the mainstream of American education. Contacting the National Council of Social Studies (They have a C3 initiative…..College, Career, and Civics) and the American Career and Technical Education Association (College and Career initiatives) will help spread the word to more schools and communities. Let’s create a healthier, more sustainable planet by working together to promote more service-learning. There, the future just got a little brighter!



Billig, S. H. (2007). Heads, Hearts, and Hands: The Research on K-12 Service-Learning, Denver: RMC Research Corporation.

Bridgeland, J. M., DiIulio, J. J., & Morison, K. B. (2006). The silent epidemic: Perspectives of high school dropouts. Washington, DC: Civic Enterprises & Peter D. Hart Research Associates.

Bridgeland, J. M., DiIulio, J. J., & Wulsin, S.C . (2008). Engaged for Success: Service Learning as a Tool for High School Dropout Prevention. Washington, DC: Civic Enterprises & Peter D. Hart Research Associates.

Kuh, G. (2008). High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter. American Association of Colleges & Universities. (Joni Fletty).