Student Frequently Asked Questions

What is Service Learning?
According to Chicago Public Schools, Service Learning is a teaching and learning methodology that connects classroom curriculum with identified community issues and needs. Service Learning engages students in projects that serve the community and build their social and academic capacities. Each service experience must have three distinct components in order for it to count toward your graduation requirement: Preparation, Service, Reflection. Students can earn service hours by participating in a classroom service project, an after-school service project, or a student club service project. Students can also earn service hours by working directly with a community organization.

What is preparation?
Students are effectively prepared for their service experience when they have spent time researching the organization where the service will be provided and the issue that will be addressed. For example, if students in an Environmental Science classroom work to restore a wetlands area, they will have learned about biodiversity, the importance of wetlands, and the fact that wetlands have diminished dramatically around the United States during the last century. If students work with an environmental organization, they will also come with some knowledge of that organization. Students earning service hours outside of the classroom must complete a Pre-Service Preparation form prior to a service project.

What is reflection?
When students have a chance to talk about, discuss or present information from their service experience, they are engaging in reflection. If a group of students conducts a project that addresses the problem of hunger, they will also have a chance to discuss, write about, and/or present what they learned, how they changed, and how well they performed on the project. Students earning service hours outside of the classroom must complete a Post-Service Reflection form. Students may also submit their reflections to Service Learning Manager for posting on the CPS Service Learning website at

How many service hours do I have to earn in order to graduate?
All CPS students must perform 40 hours of service in order to graduate. Students may, of course, earn in excess of 40 hours and we encourage students to do so. We strongly encourage students to earn at least ten hours each academic year. Beginning with the 2004-05 academic year, all sophomores must earn a minimum of 20 service hours in order to be promoted to junior status. It does you no good and it is a major problem for the community organization and your school if you wait until your senior year to earn your hours.

Why do I have to do 40 hours of service?
Service Learning is not the same as forced volunteerism. It is hands-on learning. If you participate in a quality service project with your heart, soul, and mind, you can enjoy some of the following outcomes:

    Engage in exciting hands-on learning
    Understand the relevance of academics to the real world
    Impact local issues and local needs
    Learn how to get things done
    Explore a potential career interest
    Enjoy an important cross-cultural or intergenerational experience
    Address social inadequacies and injustices and work to remedy them
    Increase your civic and citizenship skills
    Enhance your own self-esteem and self-confidence
    Give of yourself and enter into caring relationships with others
    Develop responsibility for your own learning.

If I go on a field trip or attend a workshop, can I earn service hours?
No. The only way that students can earn hours by attending training events or workshops is if the workshop or training is directly connected to a service project. For example, if a group of students attended a workshop about human rights advocacy and then developed a project to free someone who has been falsely imprisoned, the hours spent in training can be counted.

How can I earn my service hours?
Students may earn service hours in the following ways:

    Participate in an approved classroom service project
    Participate in an approved after-school project with a teacher or community organization
    Participate in an approved project of an extracurricular club at your school
    Work directly with an approved community organization.

Are there any restrictions about what counts for service and what does not count?
Students may not earn service hours:

    by working with a for-profit business or corporation.
    where no academic objective is addressed.
    by working for a religious organization if the service involves proselytizing.
    if the work is financially reimbursed.

How do I select an organization with which to work?

Each school maintains a listing of service opportunities and service organizations. Check with your Service Learning coach. Chicago Public Schools also maintains a database of approved service organizations. You can view the database and navigate it based on zip code and issue area at You may also go to the website found at You can find up to 450 organizations that need volunteers.

Do I just show up?
No. You should always contact the organization first, set up a first appointment and then show up on time. If you are not able to make your appointment, call the organization and let a representative know you won't be able to be there. Organizations are counting on your service. Don't let them down.

Do I need approval before I begin my service project?
Yes. It is extremely important that you receive approval for your service project before you begin. Each school's Service Learning coach must grant approval for a project.

Can I earn service hours by helping family members?
No. Service Learning is designed to expand your horizons. We want you to be introduced to new organizations, new issues and ideas through your service experience.

How are my service hours recorded?
Each student must carry with him/her a time sheet. The organizational representative, teacher and Service Learning coach are the only individuals who may sign off on your time sheet. Service Learning coaches are instructed to confirm the signatures on your time sheet by contacting the community organization. If the coach is unable to gain confirmation, your hours will not be counted toward your graduation requirement. Once the hours have been confirmed, they will be logged on the CPS computer system. You will receive updates on your transcripts twice each year.

Can I get paid while I am earning service hours?
No. If you do get paid, you cannot count those hours toward your graduation requirement. If you work at a for-profit business (i.e. restaurant or clothing store) and work some hours without pay, these hours may not count to your graduation requirement.

What resources do I have to help me earn my hours?
Your Service Learning coach, teachers, fellow students, family members or friends might all be good resources. It is always a good idea to start with the Service Learning Coach. The Coach maintains a listing of many service opportunities. You can also go to the Service Learning website at, where you will find a database of more than 200 organizations in addition to a calendar of service activities and events.

If I performed service in elementary school, can those hours be counted toward my graduation requirement?
No. You must earn all 40 hours during your high school years. Of course, we encourage you to be involved in as much service and activism at all times!