The Benefits of Service-Learning

Research confirms that active learning benefits students by allowing them to have a voice in the classroom and collaborate with others. Students’ deeper investment grows from their freedom to ask questions and investigate. Experiential learning and project-based learning often break down the walls of the classroom as students move their education out into the community. Building external relationships with the community reminds students that their education applies to the world beyond the walls of their school. Service-learning takes this idea even further.

Service-learning supports key curricular concepts through collaboration with a partner in the community. Students gain experiential knowledge of course objectives through service to others and then bring it back into the classroom. In 2016–2017, I received the Faculty Led Innovations in Education Grant (FLY). One teacher from each division at Berklee and one teacher from Boston Conservatory at Berklee agreed to invest in my FLY project called, Finding Our Voice: Narratives Through Service-learning. Each used local or global service learning to develop socially responsible citizenship as well as to break down the traditional boundaries of the classroom, returning the responsibility of learning to the students.

Students from assistant professor Alli Ross’s “Theater and Community Engagement” course collaborated with Girl Talk Theatre, made up of women from the day shelter Women’s Lunch Place. Her students supported the women’s exploration of themes of stress and hope and left with a curiosity to investigate homelessness and womanhood through theater.

The students in assistant professor James Bradford’s International Human Rights course explored the history of human rights in Haiti with the help of Haitian orphans via Skype. The children performed the Bois Caïman ceremony, which chronicles the revolution that led to Haiti’s founding. Through this drama, the orphans felt pride in their history and affirmed their own strength to rebuild their country.

Instructor Tom Schmidt brought his percussion ensemble to the elderly residents of the Susan Bailis Center. Through their participation with percussion instruments, residents created music and shared their stories. Schmidt’s students walked away with a better understanding of their musicianship and humanity.

At the Blackstone Community Center, assistant professor Dan Cantor’s Songwriting and Production class worked with children by facilitating an investigation of ways to find their voices through music. Preteens wrote songs that expressed their strengths and pride in their identity.

In a collaboration between my Artistry, Creativity, and Inquiry class and the PEACE organization, students served children of the Fenway community. The project “Who Am I?” combined music with other media to help the children explore their identity as individuals and as members of their community.

With the ongoing support of Jenna Logue, assistant director of career services, I took the first important step to entrench service learning in Berklee’s curriculum. Over the course of the 2017–2018 academic year, she and I have taken the next step by leading a faculty learning community on service learning. Several new projects are underway this term. Associate professor Jenn Beauregard and her “Oceanography” class will serve with the Surfrider Foundation for an ocean cleanup event, and the “String Performance Seminar” course, directed by professor Sharan Leventhal, has been connecting music to the stories of the residents at Moreville House, a low-income housing project.

Additional undertakings are planned for next year. I hope that the participating faculty members will inspire their colleagues to insert service-learning in their own courses. The effort will stimulate teacher and student growth and facilitate the development of student citizenship. The objective is for future Berklee graduates to become positioned firmly and responsibly in our global society.