Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Using Service Learning to Achieve Middle School Comprehensive Guidance Program Goals

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Using Service Learning to Achieve Middle School Comprehensive Guidance Program Goals

Article excerpt

Service-learning classes taught by professional middle school counselors and teachers can help middle school students meet comprehensive guidance program goals related to academic/learning development, life/career development, personal/social development, and multicultural/global citizenship. An example is provided of a service-learning class where middle school students received comprehensive guidance curriculum instruction and then taught a similar curriculum to elementary school students. Results from a phenomenological evaluation describe yielded five major themes pertinent to middle school student development and demonstrate comprehensive guidance program goal achievement: personal awareness, social skills, learning skills, career interests and character education. The themes were personal awareness, social skills, learning skills, career interests, and character education.

Middle school students struggle with significant issues unique to early adolescence involving physical, psychological, and social changes. They have been characterized by their need to (a) explore a variety of interests; (b) connect learning to practical life and work; (c) release energy through activity coupled with frequent fatigue due to rapid growth; (d) develop personal identity found through peers' affirmation; (c) separate self from parents; and (f) rely on friends to provide comfort, understanding, and approval (American School Counselor Association [ASCA], n.d.). With comprehensive guidance programs striving to reach all students (ASCA, 2003), middle school counselors find themselves employing various methods to meet the unique developmental needs of these students (ASCA, 2004).

One pedagogical method that middle school counselors can use is service learning. Service learning gives middle school students an opportunity to apply what they are learning in the classroom by performing acts of service that benefit the community. The students develop critical thinking skills by reflecting on what they have learned, seen, and experienced (Halstead, 1997; Seitsinger & Felner, 2000). Similar to the ASCA National Model[R] (2003), service learning focuses on academic, career, and personal/social development. In addition, a primary goal of service learning is civic development.

Traditionally, service learning was used in postsecondary education to encourage college students academically, civically, and socially. Recently, it has expanded to all grade levels (Pritchard & Whitehead, 2004) and is a method used by regular classroom teachers. Many characteristics of service learning are seen in middle school counseling programs such as peer helper, peer tutoring, or community service projects. Whereas these programs incorporate aspects of service learning, they fail to fully integrate service-learning standards, concepts, and research.

Research on the beneficial effects of service learning is increasing. In a summary of more than 20 research articles, Billig (2002) confirmed the impact of service learning. Students who participated in service-learning activities demonstrated measurable increases in personal/social development, civic responsibility, academic learning, and career development. In addition, the community and school environments also benefit from service learning. Scales, Blyth, Berkas, and Kielsmeier (2000), in a study of 1,153 middle school students from racially and socioeconomically diverse backgrounds in three different states, found that social responsibility--described as students' concern for others' welfare, responsibility felt to help others, and perceived ability to be effective helping others--increased among students who were enrolled in a service-learning program compared to control groups. Because learning has been found to be a social process as well as a cognitive process, increases in social responsibility create a social awareness that facilitates academic learning. Scales et al. …

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