Project K.I.D.S. C.A.N.: Service-learning in the classroom and community

Project K.I.D.S. C.A.N.: Service-learning in the classroom and community

Barger-Anderson, Richael A


Project K.I.D.S. C.A.N. (Keep Involving Dassa Students in Community and Nature) offered the opportunity for many to serve the needs of each other through restoring an outdoor nature trail and beautification projects on school and community properties. The sites of the project were Dassa McKinney Elementary School, the community nature trail, and the Veteran’s Memorial in the local town of West Sunbury, Pennsylvania. Students in the learning and emotional support classrooms at Dassa McKinney Elementary school were the primary participants. General education peers, along with high school students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community members were partners. In this article, sustainability and evaluation methods are discussed. Definitions of service-learning and evidence of support are offered. Through the use of service-learning, this article demonstrates how Project K.I.D.S. C.A.N. strengthened ties in a rural community along with meeting curricular objectives.


“This is a lot of fun learning about the environment!”

“I can’t wait to help someone else.”

“What’s our next project going to be?”

“Can we do this again next year?”

“YES! I got a certificate on awards day!”

What are these children talking about? The answer is simple, easy, and growing in popularity every day. The answer is service-learning. You probably have heard of it by now, even though you may not be sure exactly what it entails. This article begins with a definition of service-learning. Identification of positive aspects for implementing service-learning into the school district curriculum are discussed. Finally, a description of an example of a particular service-learning project, Project K.I.D.S C.A.N. (Keep Involving Dassa Students in Community And Nature) is provided. This includes the district curricular goals that were involved, sustainability, and evaluation methods.

Project K.I.D.S. C.A.N. was implemented in the school district of Moniteau. This school district is located within a rural setting comprised of small communities, farms, and residential homes. Service-learning projects, such as Project K.I.D.S. C.A.N., allow an opportunity for school districts located in rural, many times remote, areas to become involved in helping their communities. Service-learning projects offer a chance for providing a reciprocal relationship between community and school.


Eyler and Giles (1999) state there are 147 definitions of service-learning. Why are there so many definitions? Service-learning comprises two parts: service and learning. The service and learning components may share equal weight in terms of amount of time given or one may be viewed as needing more time than the other one. Eyler and Giles state that no matter which approach is taken, it is still service-learning. The service component entails providing a needed service to others in the community or school. Learning refers to the fact that, while participants are providing service, they are also learning and meeting curricular goals.

Fertman (1994) states service-learning contains four components: a) learning, b) service, c) reflection, and d) celebration. During the first, or learning component, students amass knowledge through many avenues. One possibility is hosting guest speakers at your school who are experts in the chosen area of service. Reading books, writing reports, and interviewing more knowledgeable peers, teachers, administrators, or community members on the topic are also options. The second component involves the students going out to the community or school to provide the chosen service. Many times the service reinforces and allows application of the learning component. For example, if students choose to make bird feeders, many math objectives may be applied through measuring materials and the construction of the feeders. Reflection is the third component. Daily reflection, independent and group, is extremely important yet can be simply achieved through discussions or a journal entry. Reflection provides an opportunity to have students think about and realize the positive things they are achieving and learning. Students reflect on their servicelearning project in relation to themselves and others. The fourth and final component is celebration. Celebration is exactly what it says, celebrating the achievements, hard work, and rewards for both the participants and the beneficiaries. This may be done through an awards ceremony, a pizza party, or a certificate recognizing each individual who contributed in the experience.

Positive Aspects of Service Learning

Reasons for using service-learning in your classroom are plentiful and robust (Swick, 1999a). Growing attention is being given to service-learning. This is made evident through the popularity of programs utilizing this approach and the increasing research to support it (Greene, 1998). This section will offer research supportive of the positive results service-learning may bring to classrooms and communities.

* Service-learning provides connections. Education and communities need to come together and work closely together toward meeting common goals (Levesque & Prosser, 1996).

* Service-learning can make communities better. Service-learning projects can provide power to students, parents, administration, teachers, teacher educators, and communities (Swick, 1999b).

* Character education may be a component. Servicelearning provides an excellent way to include character education among students (Clayton, 1999).

* Specific standards are easily met. Service-learning is also a great way to help meet and achieve specific curricular and state standards. The projects are easily evaluated and students are motivated to learn (Cairn & Cairn, 1999).

* Educators’ professional skills can be strengthened. Swick (1999a) states that teachers’ instructional skills can be strengthened through service-learning. It also engages the student with role models of competence and caring.

* Reflection is encouraged and promoted. Harkavy and Romer (1999) state a positive aspect of service-learning is that it has an emphasis on reflection. Reflection can be through journal writing and other self-evaluative methods. This allows opportunities for students to make connections of what they have learned (Yost, Sentner, & Forlenza– Bailey, in press) and the service they are providing.

* Increases citizenship and engages students in real life situations. Harkavy and Romer (1999) maintain that service-learning projects not only offer opportunities for greater citizenship but also engages the students in real life needs and problems that face communities today. Because students are exposed to these situations, it encourages them to problem solve and search for possible answers and solutions.

* Aids with the current push for inclusive practices. Gent and Gurecka (1998) state that the current push for inclusion of students with special needs in the general education classroom is sometimes difficult. The methodology of service-learning provides solutions for inclusive needs in several ways. It helps create a sense of belonging for students with special needs in the classroom. Also, community based instruction for students without special needs is promoted along with the more widely acceptable community based instruction for students with special needs.

A Service-Learning Example

Service-learning programs can be successful for multiple-levels of service (Gent & Gurecka, 1995). Project K.I.D.S. C.A.N. is an example of multiple– level service. Multiple-level service means that there is more than one beneficiary receiving a service. The participants of this program included two schools in a rural Pennsylvania school district. They were Dassa McKinney Elementary and Moniteau High School. Students, special needs and general education, were involved along with teachers and administrators. The community participants included local businesses, parents and members of the town council. All participants received benefits of service from this tri-fold project for Dassa McKinney Elementary school grounds, the school nature trail, and the local Veteran’s Memorial located in West Sunbury, PA.

Dassa McKinney Elementary School offered support through providing students, supplies, teachers, and the grounds in which much of the service took place. Supplies donated by the Moniteau School District included wheelbarrows, shovels, and other necessary tools for the service project to be completed.

Elementary students from the Learning Support and Emotional Support programs worked in conjunction with several other general elementary peers. The elementary students primarily responsible for the project included 45 students receiving services from the Learning Support and Emotional Support programs. Included in this group were students with physical and cognitive disabilities as well as students from disadvantaged homes.

Teachers from the special education department at Dassa McKinney Elementary and the elementary physical education teacher joined together to write curricular objectives to be met and guidelines for the project. These teachers contributed to organizing events such as training sessions for the high school students working with elementary-aged students, proper care of landscaping, and other useful skills needed to follow through with the project. Members of the ninth grade Honors English class at the high school and their teacher assisted with the coordination and implementation. These high school assistants were involved in the training of the elementary students as well as assisting in the completion of the project. In addition to the high school students providing a service to our elementary students, the project provided them with a service, namely opportunities in a possible future career.

Several community agencies provided training and consultation regarding the necessary aspects to complete the beautification process. Training and consultation included oral presentations, visual aids, and literature to help students understand the significance of the beautification project. Agencies included The Butler County Conservation Agency, Evergreen Nursery, Scott’s Landscaping and the mayor and council of West Sunbury Borough. All elementary school members were beneficiaries of the school’s landscaping and a rejuvenated nature trail. The community served as beneficiaries by having the local veteran’s memorial landscaped.

Project K.I.D.S. C.A.N. involved a collaborative effort between students, teachers, administration, parents and community to determine the areas of the school and community grounds, which would benefit from a beautification process. A needs assessment was completed prior to beginning the process. An advisory committee was established to determine project needs and to evaluate progress throughout the project. The advisory committee consisted of students, administration, parents, community members, and teachers.

The elementary physical education teacher developed, through physical education and health classes, a fitness program for each child in the school. Goals were set for each child and for each classroom. The general education classroom teachers took students for daily walks on the nature trail to further implement this. Walking totals were posted weekly to motivate all involved in the fitness program. Plans to further develop the trail with areas set aside for outdoor classroom experiences are future goals of the district.

Meeting Curricular Goals

Project K.I.D.S. C.A.N. made the school’s beautification project with the nature trail possible. This project not only provided student involvement and pride in the appearance of the school but also provided further activities in the science, mathematics, social studies, and language arts curriculum areas. Specific curricular goals and objectives in these areas are listed next.

* Science goals included learning about the water cycle, organisms, plants, environment, weather, and soil conservation.

* Mathematics goals included measurement, money, time, and computation skills.

* Use of community resources, geographical location, group work, decision-making skills, and vocational activities were goals for the area of social studies.

* Goals in the area of language arts included comprehension, following directions, increased reading level, increased vocabulary skills, reference skills, decoding, journals to reflect on daily activities, grammar, and writing skills.

In addition to these curricular goals being met, community ties were further strengthened. Participants achieved this through working together with community business leaders. Cooperation between the students, school district, and community members in planning and completing beautification plans to the local veteran’s memorial in West Sunbury, Pennsylvania was essential.

Upon completion of the Project K.I.D.S. C.A.N., all students, community agencies, local government, and school district employees that participated were recognized for their hard work and dedication in providing service to others. This recognition occurred at the Memorial Day parade service. In addition, students were rewarded with certificates at an awards ceremony in front of the entire school population. At this ceremony, the entire teaching staff was encouraged to incorporate the completed project into the curriculum.

It is important to remember that the students in the service-learning project need to feel respected as integral members of the project. Always remember to allow for this and reinforce their role as important and necessary participants. Students from the Learning Support and Emotional Support program continually gathered information from a needs assessment to determine the project’s direction. Several students also participated as members of the local advisory committee to voice concerns throughout the project. The advisory committee assisted the students in determining the projects to be done and which participants were responsible for certain parts of the program.


Sustainability should not be overlooked. A long– range goal in the upkeep and maintenance of service– learning projects must be addressed. A Learn and Serve grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education was awarded to initiate this particular project. Funding is one aspect that may not be reliable from one year to the next. Due to this fact, self-sustainability needs consideration.

Project K.I.D.S. C.A.N. will continue to be maintained in the future by students, staff, community members, and parents. The district is involved in a building renovation project. An addition will be made to the existing school plant. This will further the need for future landscaping and beautification of the school grounds. Also, flower boxes contributed to the community Veteran’s Memorial will need to be maintained. This could become a yearly project, approved by the administration, for the Learning and Emotional Support classes. It not only will benefit the school and community but also will provide the students with skills to become contributing members of society. Funding for this sustainability will come from in-kind donations and donations from local businesses and community members. School personnel and local community agencies will provide yearly training for those involved in the project.


It is important to share service-learning projects with others. This may be done through presenting at conferences, workshops or in-services, and writing articles for a local newspaper or school newspaper. Sharing service-learning experiences will help other groups get new projects started.

The experience and knowledge gained by Project K.I.D.S. C.A.N. was shared with persons interested in developing service-learning projects in several ways. First, primary personnel responsible for the project developed a workshop to present to interested staff and administration of the school district, community members, neighboring school districts, businesses, and parents. Second, students and staff participating in the service-learning project emerged prepared to effectively work with future individuals in service-learning efforts. Third, Moniteau School District’s web site has been updated to include pictures and information of the service-learning project.

Another valuable means of broadcasting information was through articles that were submitted periodically to local newspapers for publication. This also served as a means for reporting progress to the community. Finally, the celebration that was open to all participants, beneficiaries, local businesses, community members, and neighboring schools and communities that was held proved successful. The annual Memorial Day Parade recognized all participants of Project K.I.D.S. C.A.N.

Project K.I.D.S. C.A.N. has provided multiple– level service through a rural school district and its community. It is a model example of how service-learning can not only increase students’ sense of citizenship but achieve curricular goals and build community ties. It brought together groups of individuals to collectively work toward a common good. Project K.I.D.S. C.A.N. needs to be continued in the future. More research needs to be conducted on this particular project to report the many levels of success. By doing so, it will provide the needed support to continue the use of service-learning projects not only in this school district but also in other rural areas. All service-learning programs need to publish their results of existing programs. By providing evidence of successful service-learning projects, it is hoped that other projects will be established and implemented.


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Swick, K. J. (1999a). Service-learning helps future teachers strengthen caring perspectives. The Clearing House, 73(1), 29-33.

Swick, K. J. (19996). Service-learning in early childhood teacher education. Early Childhood Education Journal, 27(2), 129-137.

Yost, D. S., Sentner, S. M., & Forlenza-Bailey, A. (in press). An examination of the construct of critical reflection: Implications for teacher education programming in the 21st century. Journal of Teacher Education.

Richael A. Barger-Anderson

Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Copyright American Council on Rural Special Education Spring 2002

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