Career Education through Service Learning: Creating Strategic Alliances for Student Learning

By Woods, Michael | The Agricultural Education Magazine, May/June 2002 | Go to article overview
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Career Education through Service Learning: Creating Strategic Alliances for Student Learning

Woods, Michael, The Agricultural Education Magazine

When students sit in a classroom and wonder "When am I ever going to use this information?", the real world can seem a million miles away. To receive a top-notch education, they need to see the relevance of rigorous academic studies to their own lives.

What should students know and be able to do by the time they graduate high school? This basic question is at the heart of most education reforms in recent years. Increasingly, the answer lies not just in strong academic and career skills but also in a sense of self and the individual's role in supporting and building a vibrant community.

As schools seek ways to connect students with the world around them, community service in schools is on the rise. A recent study by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) shows that 83% of the high schools in this country offer community service opportunities, up from 27% in 1984. In fact, NCES predicts that more than 13 million students in North America will be engaged in community service by next year.

But service alone is not enough to meet school goals of turning out educated students and thoughtful citizens. When service is integrated into rigorous curriculum and schools give students an opportunity and a framework to reflect on their experience, service-learning becomes a powerful tool for connecting students with their career and their communities.

How Service Learning Fits with Career Education

Service learning represents a point of interface between the classroom and the community and can be used at almost any point in the agricultural education curriculum. Service learning represents an opportunity for agricultural education students to work with employers to provide a meaningful opportunity for community service, combined with the academic and technical skills that employers require.

For agricultural education students, service learning offers exposure to the world of work and community and provides a context for building academic and work-- readiness skills (i.e., team and problem-solving skills; communication skills; competencies and foundation skills identified as important for employability; and responsible citizenship) while gaining support of business leaders through community partnerships.

Moreover, service learning offers agricultural education students valuable exploration into and experience with real-world needs that can be addressed through action and initiative, while further solidifying their work-readiness, academic and technical skills. Service learning represents a holistic approach to learner development and the building of multiple competencies.

Because of the commonalities between service learning and career education, agricultural education students can benefit from greater collaboration between them. Both are potent experiential education methodologies, best incorporated into a total agricultural education curriculum. Both involve students in filling real-world roles, in one case as community volunteers, in the other as workers. They also share other elements, including:

* A focus on the strengths and contributions of young people rather than on the problems;

* A need for strong, supportive adult guides as supervisors in service or work settings;

* The importance of structured, thoughtful reflection on service or work experience;

* A focus on immediate outcomes for the community or employer, in addition to outcomes for the learner;

* A need for an active student role in program development, planning, evaluation, and improvement; and

* An ability to engage and motivate students.

However, to attain these elements of career education and service learning requires an agricultural education program to expand the content of subjects beyond exclusive reliance on concepts, facts and procedures. A model of career education through service learning includes: problem-solving strategies acquired through experience; cognitive management strategies, such as goal setting, strategic planning, monitoring, evaluation, and revision; and learning strategies, such as knowing how to learn and reconfiguring knowledge already possessed.

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