The University of Massachusetts Amherst

UMass Donahue Institute

2016 Publication Archive

MassGrad summary brief: Service learning and work-based learning

From the brief's introduction: 

This brief shares promising practices, successes, and challenges from the service-learning and work-based learning programs implemented in 12 high schools during the 2011–12 through 2014–15 school years. It is one in a series of five briefs based on evidence-based strategies for dropout prevention utilized by schools that received “Implementation Awards” through the MassGrad initiative. 

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education and implemented by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE), MassGrad’s primary goal was “to substantially increase the number of students who earn a high school diploma.” MassGrad targeted the 133 schools from 76 districts that exceeded the statewide annual dropout rate of 2.9 percent during the 2008–09 school year.

In its MassGrad Implementation award materials, ESE described service-learning as a teaching and learning approach that integrates community service with academic study to enrich learning. Through service-learning, students build skills such as entrepreneurship, leadership, and teamwork as they work with adults in the school, community partners, and local businesses to discover needs and problems in their communities and identify and implement solutions to address them. Work-based learning extends learning from the classroom into the workplace, connecting acquired knowledge with future employment. Through summer jobs, internships, or parttime employment, students are linked to opportunities for applied learning, with guidance from school personnel.

The two primary types of programs implemented in MassGrad sites were:

  1. Education and training. The schools provided students with opportunities to learn job-related skills (e.g., interviewing, writing a resume, dressing professionally) or introduced students to career and vocational technical education options through workshops, lectures, or semester-long courses. These programs served students in all high school grade levels.
  2. Field experiences. Students who completed service-learning projects had identified a community concern, worked in teams to find solutions, and gained academic credit. Learning personal skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, and communication was a goal of service-learning projects. Work-based learning supplemented traditional academic coursework with experiences outside the classroom setting. Learning employability skills such as being on time, dressing appropriately, and working with others was a goal of work-based learning experiences. Most students received credit, pay, or both. These programs primarily served high school juniors, seniors, and others of working age.

Many sites used both program models, providing education and training that complemented students’ field experiences. The education and training activities were designed as preparation for entering field settings, for students who were already engaged in field experiences, or both.

Service-learning and work-based learning programs may require substantial school investment of personnel and transportation resources, as well as innovations in scheduling, curriculum, assessment, staffing, and logistics. A school may choose to award elective credit for service- and work-based learning activities that take place entirely outside of school time, with minimal staff support and student-provided transportation. However, a higher level of commitment is required if schools want to include students who need strong supports and address the many challenges associated with this complex strategy, as described throughout the summary brief.

Read the full brief. 


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