I’m on the West coast this week, and in San Francisco yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak at the Corporation for National and Community Service organization’s 2009 National Conference on Volunteering and Service. We announced at the event that Microsoft and the Corporation are partnering to build a virtual, student-driven technical support helpdesk for US educators and non-profits. Over the next three years, we’ll create this program together which aligns to President Obama’s United We Serve initiative. We think this will be a great service-learning opportunity to better connect our nation’s students technical knowledge and enthusiasm with the needs of our nation’s teachers. 

I am a huge advocate for infusing service-learning into K12 education. Service-learning is an approach to teaching and learning that combines classroom academic instruction with civic duty in the community and reflection. I think service-learning is a key vehicle for students to gain 21st century skills, to better prepare them for the workforce and to keep them excited about learning. I’ve always had a passion for service. Early in my career at Microsoft, I worked with the Girl Scouts to help them use technology to more efficiently sell their cookies, and later I helped create EduConnect, a Microsoft program where employees volunteer and become education evangelists in their local schools and/or at their alma maters. The goal is to get kids to look at technology as much more than just social networking, but to realize the impact it can have on the world around them. 
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         The pervasiveness of community service and service-learning in schools is not widespread yet. According to the Corporation’s research, only 24% of K12 schools offer service-learning and the benefits are positive -- young people are more likely to be committed to volunteerism in adulthood that will last a lifetime, and it has positive impact on their social behavior, habits and attitudes.

In New Mexico, our US Partners in Learning team is partnering with the Office of the Governor and New Mexico Public Education Department to develop innovative education and technology solutions that not only help students define college and career goals, but also help catalyze local economic development. In the town of Loving, high school students are learning construction trades and business and computer skills, and putting those skills to work to build affordable housing to help rejuvenate their community. This hands-on learning experience is putting renewed classroom focus on science, technology, math and entrepreneurship that will help prepare the students for today’s workplace. Along with the hard labor, students work with an architect on the house plans and with local bankers on financing. (Check out some pictures on the right.) The kids are so committed to this project…even the graduating seniors are sacrificing a portion of their summer to help complete construction of the house which should be ready for new homeowners later this summer.

We are also working with the National Career and Technical Education Foundation (NCTEF) to identify other high schools across the country that are providing a rigorous academic programs and hands-on, careers-based learning experiences. We are developing best practice guides to document the success of the high schools.  These guides titled, “Redesigning the High School Experience for College and Career Readiness,” present a clear picture of the steps involved in implementing this type of service-learning high school experience.  You can read more about the New Mexico project here and learn more about the importance of partnerships, ongoing community buy-in and support, and most importantly the service-learning benefits to students.

I would like your feedback on the usefulness of these guides, and I’d be interested to learn more about what your schools are doing to incorporate volunteering and service-learning into curriculum.