The service-learning policies for Chicago Public School high school students aim to enhance a student’s learning by combining class curriculum with volunteer opportunities. Several years ago, Walter Payton College Preparatory implemented a policy within that of the CPS policy: rather than simply volunteering for forty hours throughout four years of high school, Payton students are required to complete three separate service-learning projects.
The CPS service-learning website describes the projects as “a proven civic education practice that extends learning into the community and builds a strong sense of agency among young people.” These projects differ from regular “service” volunteering in a number of ways. For example, service projects require the approval of a teacher. Teachers then to help their students connect the project to class curriculums, which increases the understanding students have of the work they are doing in class and in their community.
Payton students can no longer fulfill graduation requirements by completing forty hours of regular service. In order to graduate, all Payton students must complete three service-learning projects. Each project requires at least fifteen hours of work and the completion of three separate stages: preparation, action, and reflection.
The first stage of a service-learning project is known as “preparation”. This includes any necessary research or work that needs to be done before the actual volunteer work can begin. There are a few forms that must be filled out in this stage, all of which can be found outside Room 122 or online at the Chicago Public School service learning page (a link to this page can be found under the Student Life tab on the WPCP page titled Service Learning). After the forms have been filled out, they should be returned to Ms. Spencer, Payton’s Service-Learning Coach, at room 122.
Following prep, the second stage of “action,” which includes the actual service itself. At this point the student leaves the school building and begins to work in the community or organization. The student is encouraged to keep two goals in mind while working and interacting with the people of the community/organization. The first is to help the community/organization in some way–the “service” portion of the project. The second goal is that the student learns something about him or herself through the work done. This can be in many forms, from discovering a new skill to realizing a new passion.
The third and final stage is the reflection, which generally includes some sort of essay or other final project. The student reports what he or she did, how it applied to the class, and the things he/she learned.
Every year on March 4, Payton students participate in Sweetness Day, a day set aside to honor Walter Payton, who was known for his active participation in a number of charities and other volunteer work. Rather than attending class, Payton advisories work together in various organizations and neighborhoods around Chicago.
Students who have actively participated in three separate Sweetness Days have automatically completed their service learning requirements for graduation. According to Ms. Spencer, the structure of Sweetness Day volunteering fits into the Payton service learning requirements for graduation. Each step which are covered by Sweetness Day. Advisories spent preparing for Sweetness Day count as the projects first stage, while a short essay reflection during advisory after Sweetness Day counts as the final stage.
Seniors will be informed if they have not completed all necessary requirements prior to graduation, giving them enough time to complete their service projects. For students who haven’t participated or would like to check their progress, updates should be recorded on transcripts. Unfortunately, some students are reporting that their transcripts inform them of the number of hours completed rather than the projects they’ve completed. Students finding themselves in this situation can contact Ms. Spencer (Room 122) or their counselors.