Service Learning: Designed to Motivate and Inspire

Originally published by Getting Smart
By: Liz Pitofsky

Part of the thrill of facilitating The Service Learning Project (SLP) is seeing the incredibly positive impact on youth of all ages, and there are consistent trends: Students are excited to participate in, but even more so to lead, the process. They are passionate about working together to help solve a social problem of their choice. And they are energized by the opportunity to share their proposals for change with adults in their schools and communities.

“Thank you for letting us express what we think problems are…
Thank you for giving me the confidence that I have now…
Thank you for teaching me that I will be heard if I speak up…
I wouldn’t have cared about this topic if you didn’t come.”
– SLP 4th graders

Why are children and teens so highly motivated by service learning or action civics? Research conducted by Paul Pintrich, University of Michigan professor of education and psychology, points to five essential elements of student motivation, all of which are fundamental to service learning, civics education and the SLP model.


According to the theory of self-efficacy, if students expect to do well, they will try harder, engage more deeply and show more persistence. On the other hand, if students don’t believe they can do something, they find it easier to quit or to feel that a task is impossible.

Service learning and the SLP model promotes student self-efficacy in multiple ways: First, at each step of the process, our faculty convey optimism about the general capacity of young people to create positive change, while also sharing stories about successful projects completed by other SLP participants.  Second, we emphasize the unique power young people have to capture the attention of adult decision-makers, which is confirmed during the research phase when students engage with adults who are often moved by their passion and determination. Third, we provide concrete and realistic feedback so that students do not feel overwhelmed by trying new tasks. Similarly, we make sure students do not attempt a new task, such as interviewing an adult working in their school, without sufficient preparation for the challenges that may arise.

Self-Determination and Personal Control

Not surprisingly, research also shows that students who believe they have more personal control of their own learning are more likely to engage. In an SLP project, students drive every step beginning with the selection of the social issue to be tackled. Although faculty guide the process, we ask students to take the lead by deciding what questions to research, which people to interview, which solutions to explore, etc.  Even with our younger students, who may not be quite ready to direct the process, we offer multiple options to choose from and then, at each step, follow the path about which they are most enthusiastic.

Similarly, SLP students have tremendous autonomy. Any task, big or small, that a student can handle, we give them the space to do so.  Whether it’s collecting information from their peers, facilitating a group discussion or editing a public service announcement (PSA), we encourage our young advocates to take charge and remind them throughout the process that the adults in the room are there merely to assist them in the process. This is very exciting, especially for young people who are accustomed to the more adult-driven approach of traditional classroom settings, and very effective in building their enthusiasm for the project.

Personal and Situational Interest

Tapping into personal interest is, of course, an excellent way to motivate students, which is one of the reasons our model requires that students choose the social issue to be tackled.

Situational interest, on the other hand, refers to how interested students are in specific tasks.  By allowing youth to take the lead in determining which activities to pursue, mixing up the activities throughout the process, and adjusting the focus, as needed, to evolve with the students’ growing knowledge about the issue, we ensure that the project stays interesting for our participants.

Value Calculations

Students want their work to be important and not busy work. With each activity, we make sure students understand why we’re doing it and how it will help advance their project. We also take any opportunity for students to appreciate how skills they are developing can be used outside of the SLP process in their academic and personal lives.

Goal Orientation

Students pursue many different goals in the classroom, both individual and social. Individual performance goals that are achieved through action civics include opportunities to demonstrate ability, receive recognition and compare individual progress with that of their peers.

Because social ‘success’ can be strongly related to effort and achievement, peer interaction is key to maintaining student motivation. Small group activities, which make up a significant part of the SLP process, are effective because they promote a sense of belonging to the group, demonstrate responsibility within the group, and provide emotional and cognitive support as needed during a particular activity.

Through work with SLP, we have seen the power of action civics and service learning on increasing the motivation of students. It is my hope that every student will one day experience the benefits of a service learning or action civics project—the benefits to students are profound.

WANTED: 100 North Carolina educators committed to empowering our children to transform the world, through local action

Design for Change, is a framework that assists educators in designing meaningful student-led projects. When students participate in DFC, they join a coalition of over 1 million young people around the world saying, “I CAN make an impact!”

We will have a fall cohort August-Dec 2019 (60 educators), and a second one Feb-May 2020 (40 educators). Participants may attend the one-day workshop in Raleigh, Wilmington, or a site in the TBA west.  The sessions will be a combination of virtual and in-person workshops for K-16 teachers, youth group leaders, and after-school program mentors/facilitators (1 CEU is available).

Participation Includes:

  • Learning through ten hours of in-person and virtual workshops
  • Coaching and mentoring from award winning educators and designers
  • Networking with innovative educators and community partners
  • Developing a design thinking mindset and toolbox to engage students in creating innovative solutions to complex, real-world problems
  • Leading a Design for Change project in your school/community
  • Capstone share and a youth summit celebrating Design for Change project work in North Carolina.


Cost:  $250  Link to pay by credit card.  Checks: Exploris Foundation, 401 Hillsborough St, Raleigh, 27603

Important dates for 2019 Design for Change (DFC) Cohort:

Thursday, Sept 12, 2019   Virtual Check In 4:30 pm (Optional) *All participants.
Saturday, September 14, 2019  (Raleigh)

Saturday, September 21, 2019 (Wilmington)

Saturday, September 28, 2019 (TBA -West)

Workshop: DFC Design Sprint 8:30am -3:30pm

Light breakfast and lunch provided   

*20 participants per site.

Thursday, October 17, 2019 Virtual Meet Up 4:00 – 5:00 p.m. (Optional) *All participants.
Thursday, November 14, 2019 Virtual Meet Up 4:00  – 5:00 pm. (Optional) *All participants.
Saturday, December 7, 2019 Fall Cohort Culminating Brunch 9am-12pm *All participants.
Wednesday, May 15, 2020 Design for Change USA Applications due!
TBA Saturday, May 16, 2020    NC DFC Youth Summit *Spring/Fall Cohorts


Events are organized by Exploris educators and DFC’s Champions for Change in NC. Jessie Francese (  and Shannon Hardy (

Youth Leadership Summit

The National Youth Leadership Council invites nonprofit organizations, schools and afterschool programs in Minnesota to apply to the 2019 Youth Leadership Summit at the Points of Light Conference,The Civic Century.

This two-day leadership experience will culminates in a Shark Tank-like project pitch where each team will walk away with a grant ranging from $250 to $1,500to implement change in their community.

This immersion in leadership development has young people (ages 11-18) explore their identities and leadership skills through interactions with other inspiring leaders: their peers and national service leaders.

When: Tuesday, June 18 and Wednesday, June 19

Where: St. Paul RiverCentre, St. Paul, Minnesota

About the Youth Leadership Summit

NYLC equips young with skills for community action through a series of activities that explore identity and equity, rooted in social and emotional learning. The training provides hands-on learning through simulations on the intersectionality of race, class, ethnicity, and geography, explorations of personal leadership styles and cultural backgrounds, and action-planning for assessments leading to addressing community needs. Participants hear from national service leaders, as well as other workshop presenters and peers, and apply their learnings to action-planning. Key to this leadership development is an inquiry process that sparks creativity and social and emotional learning including:

  • Empowerment – contribution to community
  • Positive Values – caring, equality and justice, and responsibility
  • Positive Identity – personal power, self-esteem, sense of purpose, positive view of the future
  • Social Competencies – planning and decision-making, cultural competencies, peaceful conflict resolution

Young People Gain:

  • The ability to work together with people of all backgrounds.
  • Allies to support leadership development and service-learning action plans.
  • The tools and knowledge to create equitable change in their communities.
  • Motivation to take action for the common good.


  • Listen to different perspectives and personal experiences
  • Engage in meaningful leadership activities.
  • Experience discomfort by pushing boundaries, from team-building to conversations about power and privilege.
  • Speak truth about their own stories, recognizing their knowledge and expertise.

Teams comprised of 3-10 youth, in partnership with their school, nonprofit or afterschool partner, will be selected to attend the youth leadership training and implement their project through a grant from the Points of Light Foundation. The nonprofit or afterschool program will be the fiscal agent for the grant and its implementation.

There is no fee to participate in the Youth Summit, meals and snacks will be provided, and participants may request support for local transportation to the Conference.

Apply now!

Join us at our Service-Learning Design Session

The NCSLC Spring 2019 Workshops for PK-20 Educators

Are you an educator who would like to see students more engaged in their education and community? Are you imagining creative ways to engage students in service and learning? Come join local NCSLC members in your region for a local meet-up to talk about these ideas and more!

The spring NCSLC meet-ups will give like-minded educators and community members the opportunity to:

  • network and be inspired with new ideas,
  • hear about local examples of high quality service learning, and
  • come away with a framework to design and implement high quality service-learning projects.




What are the location details for each Regional Workshop?

Triangle Workshop:
Location: Exploris School (401 Hillsborough St, Raleigh, NC 27603)
Date: Thursday, May 2nd
Time: 4-5:45pm

Eastern Workshop:
Location: University of Wilmington – Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (803-G South College Road, Wilmington)
Date:Thursday, April 25
Time: 3:45 – 5:30 p.m.

When is the deadline for registration?
Registration deadlines are different for each workshop. The deadlines are below:
Triangle: April 25th
Eastern: April 18th

Is there parking for the event?
Location specific parking information will be sent ahead of each regional workshop.

Do I have to bring my printed ticket to the event?
No, you do not need to bring a printed ticket to the event.

Will lunch be served?
Lunch will not be served but light refreshments will be provided.

Where can I contact the organizer with any questions?


Opportunities to Extend Support in the Aftermath of Hurricane Florence

Written by Grace Tippett

Changed Forever

On September 14th, 2018, the landscape, culture, and normalcy of Wilmington, North Carolina, and many other communities in the Southeast, were changed forever when the eye of Hurricane Florence made landfall. Wilmington had not seen a hurricane of the same caliber as Hurricane Florence, since Hurricane Hazel in 1954. I will never forget the frightening crack of trees as they hit the ground during the darkness of a power-outage. My neighborhood used to be thick with age-old trees, but after the swirling winds and torrential rain, it is not nearly as green as it once was. My family and I had minor damages to our house and lost our vehicles, but we were fortunate compared to the many families that have been displaced, are now homeless or have lost loved ones.

Fast-forward over a month, and the storm is still very relevant in the minds of Wilmington citizens and community leaders. Students were out of school for a total of 17 school days and the New Hanover County School Board is still wrestling with ideas on make up days, if they will be made up at all. The problems created by this natural disaster are not ones that will go away in the next few weeks, and probably not even in the next few months. We will carry the material, physical, and even mental effects with us for years to come.

In the short-term, Wilmington is in need of strong community interaction and communication. Some people have endured intense loss and though material items can be replaced it is heart-wrenching for people to lose all of their possessions. Our oceans are severely polluted with runoff and the damage to our aquatic ecosystems is serious. In the long-term, it is going to be an extensive journey to some sense of normalcy, but things will never be the exact same as they were before. The biggest long-term need is housing, as many lost their homes, received eviction notices, or had to move in with family and friends as we recover.


Story of Hope

Throughout all of the devastation, this experience is still a story of hope. Many church and community organizations united to distribute supplies and provide meals. One highlight of hurricane relief efforts was Convoy of Hope. They are a humanitarian organization that responds to the needs of suffering communities by distributing food and supplies. Convoy of Hope was stationed at Port City Community Church in Wilmington and mobilized hundreds of teen volunteers in the Wilmington area. DREAMS of Wilmington, a non-profit organization that brings arts programs to underprivileged youth, led a supply distribution center where they distributed frozen and canned goods, as well as diapers and toys for displaced children. Additionally, other local organizations, such as Support the Port, Vigilant Hope, Nourish NC and the Harrelson Center met the immediate needs of our community and still work everyday to help survivors of the storm.

During times of devastation like this, it is difficult to see the bright side, but the a beam of positivity that derived from such a terrible event was the sense of community that followed. The people of Wilmington and its surrounding areas have never been as united as they now are. It is heartwarming to see citizens of all nationalities, ages, political affiliations, religions and genders come together to relieve some of the stress from our community.


Making a Difference

No matter your background, individuals and groups are able to make a difference in our community, especially at a time like this. After an event of this degree, it is helpful for everyone to do their part.

The following is a list of local organizations that are still providing ongoing support to those affected by Hurricane Florence. Each organization accepts volunteers and/or donations to help with the ongoing recovery with the hurricane relief.

Vigilant Hope: This is an organization the primarily focuses on the local homeless population or those in extreme need. They provide food, showers, and other services throughout the week.

Support the Port: This non-profit has provided clothing, medical services, food, and living essentials to those recovering from the hurricane. They represent many in communities often overlooked and that are underserved.

Harrelson Center: This is a non-profit campus of twelve different organizations, each with a specific focus. They were able to unify forces and open a warehouse that offered cleaning supplies, food, and other necessities to many families in need.

Nourish NC:  This organization focuses on providing students and their families with healthy foods so that they can be successful in their classrooms and communities. They have reached many needs for those have suddenly faced food insecurity after the storm.

Paws Place: This is a no-kill rescue that has helped many dogs who were abandoned through Hurricane Florence. Even though their facility incurred significant damage, they have not wavered in their commitment to helping each pet find a home.

Communities in Schools Cape Fear: The CIS affiliates are working to support schools and families impacted by the storm. They have been key in aiding the 800 homeless students of Pender County.