To have students partner with a nonprofit organization to design and complete a service-learning project for that organization.
In the third trimester of the Urban EdVenture course, students begin work on the final project in collaboration with their homeroom teachers. Each class establishes a partnership with a nonprofit organization and works with that organization to determine the best way the class can serve. Partners and classes connect with one another through phone calls, emails, video conferencing, and site visits. The project culminates with a day-long hands-on service opportunity, a full day of project work on campus, and an on-campus event open to the public in which students share their work while advocating for their partner organization or cause.
Author: Urban EdVenture Faculty at Westminster
- Identify causes that interest them and organization(s) they will focus upon for the project.
- Experience consensus in group decision-making.
- Learn to write a letter.
- Learn how to advocate for a cause or organization using information they have gathered through research and interviews.
The service learning project follows the general sequence of steps outlined here. Though, because the project is student driven, you may want to vary the process in order to be responsive to student needs.
Find common causes of interest in the class.
Identify 3-4 common interests among students within the class before choosing a partner organization; we use the Heart Maps lesson to do this. Remember, students are more effective and engaged, and more likely to continue a relationship with an organization after the course, if they are passionate about the organization’s work or the community it serves. Have students do research and share about their cause with the class. You may discover a divided class if you ask them to vote for a cause. See lesson 9 of this unit - Heart Maps lesson.
Identify potential community partners linked to your class cause(s).
Students should identify and explore various organizations that focus on a cause chosen by the class and share those organizations with the class. Organizations working in similar areas of need have different ways of serving the community or addressing the need. Student research on organizations should focus on the ways the organization tries to fulfill its mission and the clients it serves.
Note: Teachers may find it helpful to select the organizations and assign them to students based on past student volunteer experiences or an existing school relationship with an organization; it is easier to sustain an existing relationship than it is to build a new one. Chances are high that one of the organizations from this stage of research will be the partner organization for the project.
Reach out to organizations in search of a partner.
Students write a letter to the potential partner organization(s) explaining the scope of the project and asking for partnership. See sample letter handout – Community Partner First Contact Template.
Conduct a needs assessment.
One of the things that we emphasize in the Urban EdVenture course is the need to engage in “good” philanthropy. When we work with a partner organization, we begin by understanding what they need in order to complete their mission. This is accomplished through research and interviews. Students who are familiar with Design Thinking techniques (such as “tell me more about…” and the triple “why”) can use the same interview procedure. In a nutshell, we ask questions that lead to understanding by developing a more complete picture of the organization and its enterprises. Some possible questions:
- “Tell me about what your organization does.”
- “What does it take to make that happen?”
- “How do your volunteers help your organization?”
- “What is the most exciting thing happening in your organization at this time?”
- “What is your biggest challenge?”
- “What challenge are you facing as an organization?”
- “What are your biggest needs?”
Conduct a site visit.
A site visit can include travelling to the location of your community partner, but it can also mean inviting your community partner in to talk to your class. The more personal connection you can make between your students and your community partner, the more beneficial the relationship will be for both.
Craft a project proposal.
After gaining an understanding of the needs of an organization, the students should decide how they would like to serve. Students should prepare a project proposal to submit to the teacher(s). We encourage students to think big at first, then we scale down or up to fit our abilities. Keep in mind time, money, and skill. We prefer to limit the role of adults (teachers and volunteers), as students will quickly lose their sense of agency if others are doing the heavy lifting.
If you would like to share with your students some examples of projects previously created by Urban EdVenture students, here are a few:
- Students chose an organization that worked with foster children and identified that the children needed appropriate clothing for school. The students went shopping, keeping in mind what they would wear themselves, and purchased outfits and delivered them to the organization.
- Students worked with the nonprofit Project Open Hand. The students signed up to do meal delivery to senior citizens and also purchased their own lunches from the organization, in this way making a donation there.
- Students worked with a water relief organization that wanted to improve its social media presence to raise money and awareness. The students created an ad campaign to use on social media. This was a prototype for the organization.
Plan for advocacy.
Often the most effective way young children can engage in philanthropy is to advocate for a cause or organization. For this reason, we require an advocacy element as part of our Urban EdVenture project. Teams have made commercials, created stickers, developed social media campaigns, and spoken to other students in assemblies and classroom visits. Creating a good advocacy element also gives the students something to share at the final celebration.
To begin the work of a good advocate, students should start with the following key information.
A. Gather information about the problem in your community.
- Who is affected?
- What are the negative outcomes for the individuals/families affected?
- How does the problem affect the rest of the community?
- Decide who needs to be educated about the problem.
- Decide what information should be shared with the community. Should we try to educate people about the issue? The work of the organization? The needs of the organization? A combination of these things?
- Brainstorm clever ways to reach your audience.
B. Gather information from your organization.
- What is their target audience?
- What strategies have proven effective before?
- What are the key messages they hope to share?
- Do they have any slogans, logos, or other branding that should be included in the advocacy campaign?
Do service as you have outlined in your project proposal.
Share the story of your experience with your classmates.