Best Practices in Service-Learning: Enhancing the Social/Emotional and Academic Competence of All Students

By Wilczenski, Felicia; Coomey, Susan | National Association of School Psychologists. Communique, October 2008 | Go to article overview
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Best Practices in Service-Learning: Enhancing the Social/Emotional and Academic Competence of All Students

Wilczenski, Felicia, Coomey, Susan, National Association of School Psychologists. Communique


"School is so boring! Why do I have to learn this stuff? PIl never use it!" How often do you hear this? Chances are, many of the students referred to you do not have any cognitive impairment or emotional disability. They are bored and disengaged from school. Some students maybe struggling with personal and career identity issues. Others come to you when they have interpersonal concerns or emotional distress. Still others have learning disabilities or cognitive impairments that hinder their academic progress. The intense pressure on teachers to close the achievement gap and to produce students who achieve academically also pressures you to find effective interventions to promote school success - for both general and special education students. The challenge is enormous.

Traditional counseling practices in schools can fall short in answering that challenge. It is often difficult for students to apply the insights and skills they learn through counseling to other settings and situations and, therefore, easy to see that interpersonal skills and emotional regulation are more likely to be developed when people interact with one another in authentic contexts. Traditional methods are often not effective in motivating disengaged students who have little support or encouragement regarding their education and see no reason to come to school. Furthermore, the traditional organizational structures found in schools today can restrict you to working with students outside of their classrooms or to developing academic interventions that are applied in isolation within a classroom, without integrating the information in any context or relating it to other areas of study.

Increasingly, educators recognize that social, emotional, and career learning directly relates to academic outcomes and should be an integral part of the academic curriculum. Service-learning is an experiential approach to education that involves students in meaningful, authentic activities that can advance social, emotional, career, and academic auricular goals while benefiting communities. In essence, service-learning is social, emotional, career, and academic education in action, linking the social, emo- tional, and career developmental concerns of school psychologists with the academic mis- sion of schools. At the same time, service- learning brings academic knowledge to life through authentic learning contexts. The ability to teach social/emotional, career, and academic concepts simultaneously makes service-learning one of the most powerful interventions possible.

This chapter explains how the goals of school psychologists and those of educators can be realized through a service-learning curriculum, and how such a curriculum can foster a sense of purpose in youth. It describes how service-learning, an intervention that can be both remedial or preventive and individual or systemic, can enable school psychologists to expand their role beyond special populations to serve students within the academic mainstream. It also discusses the use of service-learning in response to intervention models. Connections are drawn between the positive psychology movement, the nurturing of purpose in youth, and the benefits of service-learning.


Council for Service-Learning Excellence,

The Council for Service-Learning Excellence, under the auspices of the National Youth Leadership Council, offers technical assistance and professional development opportunities. It also operates the National ServiceLearning Exchange, where staff answer your questions about service-learning or connect you with peer mentors.

Learn and Serve America,

Learn and Serve America, a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service (, provides grants and scholarships to schools, colleges, and nonprofit groups that participate in community service programs.

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Best Practices in Service-Learning: Enhancing the Social/Emotional and Academic Competence of All Students


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