Service Learning in Upper Level High School Courses? YES!

January 27, 2020

How many times have I heard “Service learning cannot work in advanced and high-level classes?” Whether AP or IB, this has been aMISOPic2 constant refrain and I do understand the concern. When the emphasis is on covering content to pass an exam, how can teachers be expected to “add” service learning?

Thank you, Lee Anne Lavender, Service Learning Coach and AP Literature Teacher! At Concordia International School Shanghai, the story of what occurred in LeeAnn’s AP Literature class reveals what can happen when the understanding is how service learning is a process that moves the curriculum forward. Not an “add on” (repeat this phrase five times to embed in the brain). Service learning can be considered a teaching pedagogy that elevates learning, creates memorable content as students discover relevance and application of knowledge while increasing skills levels. And yes, I do believe this improves test scores when students have a reason to learn and apply knowledge and skills in new ways. Read LeeAnne’s wonderful article HERE.

Service learning is a reminder of a cliché worth repeating: We teach students before content. If we can enliven the curriculum by increasing the importance of knowing, if we can connect the curriculum with the Sustainable Development Goals so students know we care about more than tests and exams, and if we can enable students to empower themselves by aligning what they learn to what matters to them – then we are not just instructors; we are educators. To instruct – to fill in. To educate – to educe (“bring forth”).

I once was challenged to change the idea that “we can empower students” to “we can create learning environments where students can empower themselves.” After years (literally) of thinking about this difference I am convinced that service learning, when done well, opens the opportunity for youth to empower themselves. This is revolutionary at a time when youth see their peers taking significant action: standing up with a voice and ideas and actions that commands our attention and our action.

That LeeAnne also chronicles what she thought, what she did and what happened in such a complete and comprehensive manner is also a gift. I am convinced we have many more of these stories to capture and share. And when we do, more and more of the wonderful teachers in the trenches every day will know they too can do this.

I look forward to hearing your stories! Please contact me at

Please send all comments, questions, and ideas to

Grateful for these opportunities to connect and grow.


Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A., is an educator/author who loves to dance, travel, take walks, read, write, and collaborate with others all over the world

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February 29-March 1, 2020 — Advancing Service Learning in Inchon, South Korea; email me at

March 7-8, 2020 — Women in Leadership Conference, Incheon, South Korea; email me at 

March 26-28, 2020 — EARCOS Teacher Conference in Bangkok — Cathryn will be leading four workshops

July 13-16, 2020 – Join us in UPstate NY for the Advisory and Service Learning Summer Institute, at Carey Conference Center outside Albany. Sponsored by the New York State Association of Independent Schools and open to ALL educators. Led by Cathryn Berger Kaye with Chris Neal who brings his expertise in Action for Equity and Diversity. An in-depth experience where we all catapult to great heights, together!

More dates soon! Contact and check out the Calendar on this website.

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