An Elevator Pitch
Articulating Service-Learning on the Ride Up (or Down)
Service-Learning is a word commonly used around my home. My husband can explain it and both sons as well. After all, they have had to listen to me for over 20 years, talking about the practice. It is, however, a challenging concept to articulate to the general public, most especially to potential investors. A year and a half into this nonprofit business and I am just now figuring out my elevator pitch. If given a one minute window of opportunity, how do I tell someone who I am, what I do, and why I do it? Can I put service-learning into a nutshell?
I met with a friend recently who also happens to be an experienced nonprofit executive. She told me her nonprofit’s mission, on paper, is a board-approved amalgamation of words that attempt to capture the actionable intent of the organization, and that most people have to read it five times to even begin to comprehend. In four words, she told me exactly the true purpose of her nonprofit. I was a little wowed. This is what I needed. A succinct phrase of purpose that precedes my full mission statement.
The Elevator Pitch
My son, a phenomenal wordsmith, helped me refine my purpose: I help students find purpose in learning through service.
However, this still doesn't convey what I am doing as a nonprofit. There are still words that I must define and processes that must be explained. So, I have learned to follow up with a question.
“Without going into great detail, what is a time you truly helped someone in need?”
Let us hope I am not asking a Scrooge. In most cases, people will recall a time they gave blood, donated water bottles to hurricane victims, or volunteered to read with a struggling reader. Then comes the next question.
“What is something you learned in school (K-12)?”
Hopefully, my Jedi-mind trick works and they recall some type of service project they did in middle or high school and the unintentional learning that may have come from it. If not, it will be a favorite teacher, friend, or, sadly in my case, the bully who made my 7th grade year a horrible experience. Most people do not recall the academic lessons learned. We tend to remember things that make us feel really good or really bad. So, based on the response, I ask a final question.
“What if we could make school more engaging (than your experience or like your experience) by linking the learning to service?”
If the elevator doors are still closed, I might have an opportunity to continue. If not, I have hopefully earned a little more time to talk. Card exchange!
What else is there to say?
Service-learning is a teaching and learning strategy integrating meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities (National Service-Learning Clearinghouse, 2011). The dash represents the balance as projects and programs must be about both academic learning and meaningful service.
An Example of Service-Learning
But what does Service-Learning look like? It can be simple. All students learn about writing. They explore community needs, find one that is important to them, and write to the people in the best position to address the problem. But it doesn't stop there. They do more research and begin to formulate solutions. ELA standards also extend to presentation skills. They schedule a face-to-face with the powers-that-be. It doesn't have to end there. The students act on their ideas and it solves the community issue. So, we have a group of students who just learned the power of writing, research, speaking, and civic engagement. This is something they will never forget. And they will want to do more.
The Impact of Service-Learning
Service-learning can have a great impact on our youth as well as on the community in which they live. Furco & Root (2010) found that high-quality service-learning demonstrated improved academic achievement and student engagement, enhanced civic responsibility, and personal and social skills. It also had positive effects on students’ performance on subject-matter examinations and assessments. The National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC) has outlined eight standards for high-quality service-learning. These standards are defining meaningful service, providing a link to curriculum, requiring opportunities for reflection, ensuring diversity, empowering youth voice, establishing partnerships, monitoring progress, and deepening duration and intensity. The better each is addressed, the more powerful the experience.
Deterrents to Service-Learning
Why isn’t every classroom in America doing this? Well, not all teachers know about service-learning as an instructional strategy. That doesn’t mean they won’t do it. I started using the strategy before I ever heard the term. But many teachers never hear of it. Another study found that service-learning is implemented in fewer than 30% of K-12 schools. Teachers cited that time and scheduling were major issues. They also said it was challenging to coordinate community contacts with the ever-growing increase of demands on teacher time.
Furthermore, teachers cited a lack of support networks, resources, and funding (Losser, et al., 2018).
The Role of Learn and Serve Tampa, Inc.
And this is where Learn and Serve Tampa, Inc., comes in. My nonprofit offers training, mentoring, and support for teachers, and coordinates fiscal and nonprofit partnerships to achieve high-quality service-learning projects and programs. We host youth service leadership training to empower youth to lead the service and thus take the load from teachers. We network to find causes and communities that can link with classrooms to address issues that youth deem critical. We partner with NYLC and other service-focused organizations to share information about professional development, grants, and youth empowerment.
So, we help students find purpose in learning through service. Will you help Learn and Serve Tampa, Inc., with this mission?
Dr. Kristy Verdi is Founder and President of Learn and Serve Tampa, Inc., a not-for-profit that strives to help students find purpose in learning through service. For more information about this organization, visit https://www.learnandservetampa.org
Verdi, K. (2022, October 25). An Elevator Pitch: Articulating Service-Learning on the Ride Up (or Down). Learn and Serve Tampa, Inc. https://learnandservetampa.org.