The Office of High School Programs houses the Service Learning Initiative of Chicago Public Schools. The following guidelines have been approved by the Office of the Chief Education Officer, Dr. Barbara Eason Watkins.


The following definition for Service Learning serves as a guiding framework for Service Learning in 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.

Service Learning is a strategy, not an outcome. Service Learning is an opportunity for students to learn critical skills through project development, implementation, and reflection. By participating in high quality Service Learning experiences students learn the invaluable skill of being able to organize information, resources, and people in order to improve the community.

Components of Service Learning

In order to qualify for Service Learning hours, the service experience must include the following components:

  • Preparation: Students prepare for their service by learning about the issue of concern and developing an action plan for service.
  • Service: Students engage in meaningful service by working on a project that will make a difference in their community and is tied to their course of studies.
  • Reflection: Teachers enable students to analyze and make sense of their experience through discussion, journaling, and presentation opportunities.

Essential Characteristics of Service Learning

High quality Service Learning projects will have the following characteristics:

  • Integrated Learning
  • High Quality Service
  • Student Voice
  • Responsibility
  • Collaboration
  • Evaluation
  • Reflection

Service Learning Outcomes

Service Learning as an educational strategy is designed to accomplish the following:

  • Enhance student learning by joining theory with experience and thought with action
  • Fill unmet needs in the community through direct and indirect service that is meaningful and necessary
  • Enable students to help others, give of themselves, and enter into caring relationships with others
  • Assist students to see the relevance of the academic subject to the real world
  • Enhance the self-esteem and self-confidence of your students
  • Develop an environment of collegial participation among students, faculty, and the community
  • Give students the opportunity to do important and necessary work
  • Increase the civic and citizenship skills of students
  • Assist agencies to better serve their clients and benefit from the infusion of enthusiastic volunteers
  • Expose students to societal inadequacies and injustice and empower students to remedy them
  • Develop a richer context for students learning
  • Provide cross-cultural experiences for students
  • Better prepare students for their careers/continuing education
  • Foster a re-affirmation of students' career choices
  • Keep students motivated and interested class and serve as a tool for reflection
  • Give students more responsibility for their learning
  • Help students learn how to get things done
  • Impact local issues and local needs

Service Hours

All students must complete a total of 40 hours. Beginning with the 2002-03 academic year, schools can require that students complete 10 services hours each year in order to move on to the next grade level. Beginning with the 2004-05 academic year, all sophomores will be required to complete 20 service hours in order to be promoted to junior status.

Allowable Service Activities

Students may earn Service Learning hours through the following:

  • Classroom projects that are tied to curriculum and meet a community need
  • After school projects that meet a community need and have a clear academic objective
  • Individual service activities with non-profit community organizations where students receive preparation for the work and produce a reflection/analysis of their work.

The Board of Education is placing top priority on classroom-based Service Learning experiences that utilize project-based learning where a community need is identified and met. Service Learning hours (preparation, service, reflection) can be earned during the school day for classroom-based service activities.

Restricted Service Activities

Students may not earn Service Learning hours through the following:

  • Work with for-profit businesses and corporations
  • Religious organizations if the service involves proselytizing
  • Volunteer work where no academic objective is addressed
  • Work that is financially reimbursed

Students may not earn hours for the following specific activities:

  • Volunteer work with a political campaign without the mediation of an approved community organization or classroom instructor
  • Participation in a sports team or other extra-curricular activity unless that group designs a Service Learning project that contains the components listed above
  • Assisting a teacher (i.e. correcting papers, cleaning the classroom) unless tied to a teacher preparation program (Future Teachers of Illinois/Chicago)
  • Artistic performances unless students are involved in creating a project that includes a performance as an outcome of the project
  • Attending a training or other educational event unless that training leads directly to a service project.

Please review the Service Learning Recommendations from the Golden Apple Class of 2001.

For more information, contact the Service Learning Coach or school principal in your neighborhood or Jon Schmidt, Manager of Service Learning at 773/553-3425 or by email at