My entire teaching career was at one school, and the philosophy is strongly rooted in "community" as the foundation for learning. In nine years teaching there I developed a deep appreciation for student-involvement in the community.
Students have the capacity to make massive waves of change because they are young, technologically savvy, and many injustices happening in the world today are happening to them, impacting them directly. What they need from us are the tools, skills, and knowledge to have their voices heard. They have opinions, they have ideas. They just need a nudge, some guidance, and a little confidence.
I designed a project that gives students the tools, skills, and knowledge that they need for a lifetime of community work and activism. Check out Community Action Projects at Experiential Learning Depot.
My community action projects are entirely student-led. They are a cool mix of project-based learning, problem-based learning, and service-learning. Students identify important issues in the local and global community, explore solutions, create action plans, and take action.
These types of projects teach many important social-emotional skills such as empathy and self-reliance. They help students develop essential life and career skills such as collaboration and responsible citizenship. Most importantly, action in the community gives students the tools to make a positive impact long after they have completed the project, finished the class, or graduated from school.
You can take a look at my Community Action Project Tool Kit for all of the guiding materials needed for student-led CAP.
I also encourage you to grab my project assessment e-portfolio, free when you join my newsletter. Students add project outcomes such as evidence of final products, community collaborations, rubrics, reflections, etc. Have students manage their own community action project learning outcome into one beautiful and easy-to-navigate assessment portfolio for free.
Student-Led Service Learning Projects for Secondary Students
There are many ways students can take action in the community today! Here are four such ways:
1) Giving Time/Volunteering/Community Service:
Giving time is one way students can be active in the community. Students can organize a community involvement club, have a weekly community clean-up days, regular visits to a food shelf, take on a role at a relevant established organization, and so on. Inspire students to identify community issues that matter to them, and to give their time to that cause.
Students love fundraising! Encourage them to direct that spirit toward a cause that is meaningful or relevant in their lives. Many people don't have the means to donate money from their own pockets, especially students. They can plan and host a fundraiser for a specific cause and donate money to a worthy cause that way.
3) Advocating for Legislation:
This is a really important learning experience for students to have in my opinion. In many cases it is the most effective course of action one could take. The Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs (MAAP) coordinates an annual "Legislative Day", where students from across the state come to the capital to speak with their legislators. This is a powerful way for students to be heard. This type of action also teaches students important citizenship concepts, among other things. I had a student who personally contacted her legislator to discuss a bill that would help ex-convicts get jobs, an important and personal issue to this particular student. That legislator traveled a long distance to come and meet with my student.
4) Education/Raising Awareness:
Education is the most effective course of action in making long-term change. Say what you will about social media, but in this case, it is a huge ally. Information travels fast, far and wide when shared on social media platforms. Students are especially competent with technology. A simple awareness campaign poster posted on social media will reach more people in 5 minutes than a flier would in weeks. Encourage your students to utilize these 21st C. communication skills to their benefit and the benefit of the community. If social media is not an option, challenge students to spread awareness far and wide without it.
There are so many ways students can be active members of their communities. What seems like a small and simple gesture may not be small and simple for some. I had a student who wanted to get a crosswalk put into a high traffic area near the school. Getting a crosswalk put in may not bring world peace, but it's something, and an important something to that student and her community.
Change the world one project at a time! Have a great school week everyone.
Spring is here, the weather is warming, and students are getting antsy. The school year is wrapping up. Teachers want to end the year with a bang, but we're also exhausted and don't know how much more we have in us! It's testing season, graduation season, grade report season!
Ah! May is bonkers in the world of education.
What better way to go out with a bang AND cruise through the rest of the year than with community action projects (CAPs)?
In summary, students choose a local or global issue, design an action plan, and take action. It's a great mix of project-based learning, problem-based learning, and service-learning. Community action projects are interesting, multidisciplinary, and student-directed, which means there is little to no preparation on your part. You guide and facilitate.
Check out my portfolio of CAP resources to save yourself an enormous amount of time in this crazy season.
When students have completed their projects or many projects over the course of the year, rather than test them, have them compile their final outcomes into this free project e-Portfolio to showcase learning. Students can add evidence of learning with photographs and videos, add their rubrics and their reflections, and more!
The following is a list of community action project ideas that could apply to most issues. Students can refer to this list when designing their action plans or you could choose an idea from the list to assign to the class.
10 Community Action Project Ideas To Wrap Up the School Year
1. Awareness Campaign:
Students design a campaign that would educate the public on the issue. They could create posters, t-shirts, a video promotion, etc. They can get super creative with this one, and the options are endless, especially with social media and other technologies having come onto the scene.
2. Design and Make a Product:
The idea behind this one is that students design and make something that raises awareness and provides a tangible outcome. The product should be usable or sellable to raise money for the cause.
An example is taking an invasive species, such as buckthorn here in MN, and using it as material for a product to sell such as a bracelet or waste basket. This action plan mitigates the buckthorn problem and brings in money (selling the product at a school function, in boutiques, or on Etsy) to use toward a permanent, long term solution (ex: donating the funds to the DNR.) This is a great option for the makers of the world!
3. Innovative Strategy to Raise Awareness:
Imagine a student is interested in the issue of teen pregnancy. One way to raise awareness would be to create a brochure with some info and stats on the issue and pass it around town. Okay. That is technically raising awareness, but it's not a head turner.
One of my students did her community action project on teen pregnancy. She created a website with information about teen pregnancy, assembled HUNDREDS of fortune-tellers (paper origami game), and added a link to her website with instructions on how to enter a drawing.
4. Organize a school club or community organization:
I have had several students start and organize clubs for their community action projects. One group started an environmental science club. They created objectives and goals and organized club events related to their community action projects. They put together a community wide clean-up day where they walked the school neighborhood picking up trash. The club organizers invited speakers to come in and educate students on local environmental issues and give them tips on how they could help.
I have a PBL project specific to starting a club, which includes templates helpful for getting one started.
5. Community Volunteer
One way to take action on an issue of importance is giving time to a cause. That often takes the shape of volunteering. Students find an organization relevant to the issue they've chosen for their project and give their time to that organization.
One of my student did her project on human trafficking. She connected with a shelter that took in trafficking survivors to help them get back on their feet. She organized a food and clothing drive for women in the shelter. She coordinated and executed a speaker event where some of the women from the shelter came to speak to the community.
This student not only gave her time to cause that she was passionate about, but she was able to raise awareness about the issue a the same time.
6. Host a Fundraiser
Raising money is a great way to take action. The outcome makes a direct and tangible impact.
Several of my students organized a holiday pie fundraiser at the time when the Syrian refugee crisis was front and center. They not only learned about the Syrian conflict, but also how to organize an effective fundraiser. They had to learn which organizations were reputable and would get the money into the right hands. They learned how to make homemade pies and how to market their fundraiser. They had to figure out how to make a profit, not lose money, and more!
This experience resulted in the developing of content knowledge in addition to 21st-century skills such as collaboration, global awareness, financial literacy, and more.
7. Write Letters and Meet with Legislators
Advocating for legislation is a really powerful learning experience, not only because students make an impact on their community at the time, but they also develop the skills to continue to do so long after they've graduated. It's important for students to know their rights and how to advocate for themselves and their communities over the course of their lives.
I had a student that was frustrated with the lack of job prospects for ex convicts. She wrote letters to her local legislators expressing her interest in the issue and invited them to come to the school to meet with her and talk about possible solutions. One of her legislators came to the school to meet with her where they brainstormed solutions at the legislative level.
8. Artistic Production
This is another way to raise awareness about a local issue. This idea here is that students create some kind of production such as a skit, play, documentary, music concert, etc. that raises awareness in an interesting way. They then bring the production to relevant audiences around the community or host an event. For example, a group of students doing a project on the issue of bike accidents might create a skit that demonstrates bike safety and perform that skit at local elementary schools or community clubs in the area.
This is when students organize a walk or demonstration to raise awareness or put pressure on politicians to act. Our students have participated in the Science March, March for Immigration, and the Women's March. They create original signage for the events. They document the experience via vlogging, a documentary, photojournalism, blogging, etc.
I have also had students organize their own walks. Some students read a book for their book club called "Am I Blue?", which inspired them to organize a walk for gay rights. They recruited participants from the school and community.
10. Host a School Event
This is a fun one but might would take some effort on your part. I have had students organize screenings of documentaries that are only available to educators. One specific example is the documentary "Sold", which is a movie version of the book "Sold", which I read with students for a women's studies seminar. I have also had students host environmental science fairs, fundraisers (carnivals, cook-offs, car washes, etc.), heritage fairs, speaker series', and more.
There are many more options for action plans, but these are the most common with my students. This particular project is really powerful, inspiring, and is a great way to end the year, especially if you host an exhibition or presentation night to show off their final products. Good luck!
I would love to hear of student projects and outcomes. Feel free to send me photos or comments to email@example.com. I'd love to feature them on the blog!
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To provide innovative educational resources for educators, parents, and students, that go beyond lecture and worksheets.
Sara Segar, experiential life-science educator and advisor, curriculum writer, and mother of two.