Case study: National Youth Leadership Council

by Kine Nordstokka on Wed, 2011-03-16 18:05
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Name: National Youth Leadership Council
Location: USA
Date Founded: 1983
Mission: To create a more just, sustainable and peaceful world with young people, their schools and their communities through service-learning.



National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC) was established in 1983 at the University of Minnesota. It founded its first programme the same year, the National Youth Leadership Training, an intense summer programme in diversity training and service-learning for high school youths. Only one year after NYLC led an effort to develop a comprehensive youth service model for Minnesota. It also established its first offshoot which launched programmes in four US states. In the following decades NYLC expanded rapidly both geographically and in provision of programmes. It also published the first service- learning guide called Giving Hope in 1990, led the development of the first nationally accepted standards for service-learning and advised public officials such as the Clinton transition team. It is now consulting on the role of high quality service-learning practice in the Obama service and education agendas.

The Innovation

Service-learning is the tool NYLC uses to empower young people to transform themselves from recipients of information and resources into valuable, contributing members of a democracy. Service-learning is a teaching method that enriches learning by engaging students in meaningful service to their communities through a process that is carefully integrated with learning objectives. It emphasises critical thinking and problem solving, tackles challenges such as hunger and homelessness, and values people of all ages as having talents to offer.

Service-learning is a mixture of learning and acts of service that is beneficial for the society. Picking up trash along a riverbank is service. Studying water samples under a microscope is learning. When science students collect and analyse water samples from the river bank, document their results and present findings to a local pollution control agency it is service-learning. Service-learning improves academic outcomes while at the same time engaging young people in their communities.

Key Ingredients

Although each service-learning project is tailored to meet specific learning goals and community needs, several common key ingredients are critical for successful projects.

The project must engage participants in meaningful and personally relevant service activities suitable for the participants’ age and developmental abilities. It should also have clear learning goals that are linked to school curriculum. Reflection is a key ingredient to growth and understanding. Reflection activities should therefore be used before, during and after the service-learning experience. Service-learning projects should promote an understanding of all forms of diversity and foster mutual respect among participants. The students should learn to identify and analyse different points of view to gain understanding of multiple perspectives. The youth should be active partners in the project and in activities such as identifying community needs, planning the service and evaluation. This nurtures youth ownership of the project, which in turn empowers young people to develop leadership skills. Service-learning builds partnerships between young people and the broader community, both those being served as well as businesses, community organisations, social service agencies and other groups that are relevant for the project. These partnerships can serve to bridge intergenerational, ethnic and cultural gaps as well as provide the young people with valuable role models. To assess the quality of the service-learning, participants collect evidence to monitor the progress toward goals. They also share the evidence of their accomplishments with the broader community. Lastly, the service-learning project should allow youth enough time to investigate community needs, prepare for service, take action, reflect repeatedly on the project, demonstrate their learning and the impacts of the project, and celebrate the achievement.


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