The senior class has officially shifted their tassel after a school year like no other! As we take a moment to reflect, administrators across the service community are actively looking to reboot service programs and opportunities. Three key considerations regularly come up as leaders chart a course to fully rebooting programs:
- Last year we had limited community engagement. How do we re-invigorate and reconnect students with the mission of our service program?
- Where do we find catch-up opportunities for students who fell short of hour requirements during the pandemic?
- How do we rebuild intentionally to focus on student development and community outcomes?
The key takeaway: recognize the opportunity and take action.
Re-Invigorating Students: Start with “Why?”
Start a fresh conversation with campus leaders about why you have a service learning program. Starting with a top down approach helps campus leaders identify opportunities across functional areas to promote the values and virtues of service across campus. Do a quick exercise with your core team, or your leadership, in which you ask them to articulate why you have a service program in the first place (don’t do it for them). While service might be core to the mission, because it doesn’t impact leadership’s lives on a daily basis, it’s easy for them to lose sight of the reason you do it in the first place. While you have a clear understanding, the staff at Accredited Schools Online has a concise overview of service to help prepare others for the conversation.
“We just always have” means it’s easy to take for granted the investment it takes to make a service program work well. By forcing leadership to articulate why it matters to them, you create space for them to re-engage in the program and potentially bring new energy, ideas, and resources to the table. Take the opportunity to request new resources and a commitment to showcase the outcomes of that conversation across campus initiatives.
Re-Connecting Students: Consider Core Student Motivators
Once we have “why” service is core to the program’s mission, it is time to connect that why to the student. Campus leadership will always see value in developing strong, intelligent, thoughtful and empathetic young leaders. But, this is a great time to take a fresh look at these core values from the student perspective. Take a few moments to consider the language and objectives of your program literature from the student viewpoint. Beyond self development, some immediately tangible outcomes from the student perspective include helping students graduate, build resumes, gain marketable skills and make community connections to find a job when they graduate. As you consider all the avenues service supports for students, we recommend Shira Woolf Cohen's piece on "How Your Program Can Build Opportunities for Career-ready Youth." Service is truly core to students taking their next step regardless of their path.
Identifying Catch Up Opportunities: Get Creative
As budgets are under increasing pressure, summer may be the perfect time to organize a volunteer effort around cleaning up your own campus. Better yet, you may have just the help you need to help review your service literature to speak directly to student motivators as you begin to reimagine your program next year. You may be your own best opportunity!
MobileServe clients know students can easily search millions of volunteer opportunities directly from their phone.
Rebuilding Intentionally: Keep it Simple
At the core of the most successful programs we’ve seen are simple and consistent expectations and processes. Changes in leadership, engagement, and environment can cause programs to ebb and flow, but a strong foundation allows leaders to build on something that is sustainable over time.
Review your processes to identify multiple steps that can be simplified into just one or two. Are you chasing students down the hall to submit their hours or manually entering hundreds or thousands of service logs into a spreadsheet? Consider strategies that have two thirds of students submitting their hours within 24 hours of serving. Are you spending too much time preparing impact reports after tracking hours on pen, paper and excel? Service impact can easily become overshadowed by service administration when processes simply evolve. This is the time to be intentional about rebooting the program your students deserve!
Let us know your thoughts and experiences!