Additional Resources

There are many organizations that have established programs to help schools integrate social action into their curriculum. Here are a few ASAC's top-rated ones:

1.  Do Something

Do Something is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to “Inspire young people to believe that change is possible; and we train, fund and mobilize them to be leaders who measurably strengthen their communities.” Do Something promotes community change projects that are identified, designed, and executed by young people and linked to explicit curricula. Projects are mentored by “community coaches,” typically teachers or guidance counselors who help young people plan and carry out activities. The first students recruited in a school typically become project leaders who provide youth leadership to all Do Something activities.

Do Something has been a pioneer in the utilization of the Internet to bring young people together, and to plan and operate a national service- learning program. It has involved musicians such as Christina Aguilera to draw young people to the Internet where they can participate in moderated chat rooms that address community needs and programming, list their success stories, and learn more about opportunities for service. Do Something also uses the Internet to allow educators to download curriculum, connect with other Community Coaches, or record their students’ skill-building efforts.

Service-Learning in Do Something

Service-learning is integrated throughout Do Something activities through a number of mechanisms, including explicit curriculum materials developed by the national staff and the utilization of the Path to Change process as the foundation of all activities: see it – believe it – build it – do it – reflect on it.

In many instances, the initial steps in this process involve young people developing and running a “Speak Out,” a town hall-like meeting that focuses on community challenges that can be addressed over the course of the year. Activities are typically followed by celebrations that promote reflection on accomplishments and other lessons learned.

The Path to Change is also a means of problem-solving that young people learn, apply more broadly, and utilize for a lifetime. (In 2002, Do Something was asked by the Wisconsin Department of Education to develop a pilot program to integrate the Path To Change curriculum into social studies programs at the elementary, middle and high school levels in Wisconsin public schools.)

Scope of Service-Learning

At the high point of the Internet-based approach there were roughly 200 Community Coaches who oversaw ongoing activities in their schools. Do Something has trained Community Coaches in 400 schools in 27 states, with a concentration of 155 schools — primarily in New Jersey and Wisconsin.

The most recent data suggests that approximately 18,000 young people participate in ongoing Do Something activities, with as many as 20,000 students in all 50 states participating in their Kindness and Justice Challenge.

Intended Outcomes

Do Something fosters leadership, citizenship, and character. Recently, Do Something engaged Brandeis University researchers to work with them to develop and implement a system that will provide objective quantitative data on their activities and outcomes. Initial data suggest that Do Something has shown positive effects on participant skills and attitudes, including civic competencies and attitudes towards service. 

2. Earth Force

Earth Force is a national education organization that involves young people in service-learning activities pertaining to environmental issues in their communities. Established in 1994 with the support of The Pew Charitable Trusts, Earth Force began as a sponsor of national campaigns such as the Kids Choose Vote, Go Wild For Wildlife!, Team Up for Trees!, Pennies for the Planet, and participated with other organizations in Nickelodeon’s Big Help initiative by organizing 350 local action sites around the country.

In 1996, Earth Force shifted its focus to encourage young people to act in deeper, more meaningful ways to address environmental problems by taking part in Community Action and Problem Solving (CAPS) civics-related service-learning projects. Earth Force now operates local offices in nine metropolitan areas around the country and supports programs in about 400 schools nationwide. The nine metropolitan regions are: Charleston, SC; Chicago, IL; Denver, CO; Erie, PA; Houston, TX; Philadelphia, PA; Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg, FL; Washington, DC; and West Palm Beach, FL.

Service-Learning in Earth Force

Earth Force focuses its efforts on helping youth in grades 5 thorough 9 acquire the knowledge, skills, and experiences to take civic action, leading to long-term improvement of the local environment. A critical component of the Earth Force process is enabling young people to direct their own community problem- solving process by choosing action projects that work to change local policy (school, government, or private policy), or effect a widespread change in community residents’ behavior or practices.

Community Action and Problem Solving (CAPS) combines the best practices of environmental education, civic engagement, and service-learning in a classroom setting. Using CAPS materials, middle school youths explore and take action on environmental issues.

The Global Rivers Environmental Education Network (GREEN) helps young people protect the rivers, streams, and other vital water resources. GREEN offers educators and watershed organizations integrated services and tools to engage youths in improving water resources.

Earth Force After School adapts Earth Force’s CAPS for use in after-school programs At the core of the program is a self-contained kit of materials and information to guide students through the study of local issues and development of action projects.

Scope of Service-Learning

About 35,000 students in about 400 schools around the country participate in Earth Force programs each year. Programs are located primarily in the nine metropolitan communities where Earth Force operates regional offices.

Intended Outcomes

Since 1997, CAPS field offices, educators, and youths have participated in a national program evaluation conducted by researchers at Brandeis University. A combination of on-site visits, observations, interviews, questionnaires, and pre- and post-program surveys has provided Earth Force a wealth of information. These results address both what is working well, suggestions for improvement in the areas of training, program materials, and program delivery. Self- and teacher-reported studies have shown that Earth Force students make substantial gains in civic action, problem-solving, ability to use community resources in the classroom, leadership, commitment to the environment, and an ability to talk and work with adults. 

3. PeaceJam

PeaceJam was founded during Denver’s summer of violence in 1996, and was inspired by one founder’s encounter with Denver gang members. These young people embodied a paradox: the gun-wielding youths lived in a culture of violence, yet they highly regarded Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a peace activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner. The founders envisioned leveraging the power of peacemakers’ stories to transform young people and their communities. They traveled to India and presented their ideas to the Dali Lama, who said he would join their effort if other Nobel Peace Prize winners would also join the cause. Eight years later, this notion is a reality; Nobel laureates now work with young people internationally on peace-oriented service-learning projects.

Service-Learning in PeaceJam

PeaceJam’s program consists of three primary components: 1) a standards-based curriculum for K-12; 2) service-learning projects that students design and implement in their communities; and 3) an annual conference where participants spend a weekend with a Nobel Peace Laureate, learning, sharing, and being inspired.

High school-level PeaceJam participants study the PeaceJam curriculum, focusing on the lives and works of Nobel Peace Prize winners who will attend their region’s annual conference. As part of the curriculum, students plan and implement peace-oriented service-learning projects and then present their projects to the Nobel Laureates at the conference.

In each region of the world where PeaceJam operates, it has a local university affiliate, which hosts and trains college students to be small group facilitators at conferences, and leverages local resources to support the program.

PeaceJam Juniors offers a standards-based educational program for K-6th-grade students. While PeaceJam clubs for older students sometimes exist separately from school programs, PeaceJam Juniors programs are integrated into the school day.

Dr. Cumbo, PeaceJam Foundation Program Director, adds, “PeaceJam is trying to create a new generation of peacemakers who have the civic and leadership skills to make a difference in their local communities. Service-learning plays a crucial role in creating that leadership.”

Scope of Service-Learning

Today, the 13 Nobel Peace Prize winners who work with PeaceJam inspire youths in 21 states and countries throughout the world, including South Africa, Costa Rica, India, Guatemala, Kenya, Argentina, and Mexico. Nearly 100,000 students currently participate in PeaceJam’s high school program, and a growing number of younger students participate in PeaceJam Juniors.

Intended Outcomes

PeaceJam participates in Learn and Serve Colorado’s annual Service-Learning Evaluation conducted by RMC Research Corporation. Results from this evaluation indicate that PeaceJam Juniors participants gain academic, personal, problem-solving, civic responsibility, leadership and social skills as a result of their participation. In addition, 97 percent of high-school-aged conference attendees report that, as a result of their experience in PeaceJam, they will be peacemakers for the rest of their lives.

PeaceJam Juniors teachers report that their students are more engaged as a result of the program, and parents who are typically un-involved in their students’ education often become involved because the PeaceJam curriculum excites them. 

Recommended Reading

*Boccia, J (1997). Students taking the lead: The challenges and rewards empowering youth in schools. Michigan: Jossey-Bass Inc.

Boccia tackles the broad concept of student leadership, and the fact that there was little research on the topic. She broke her book down into ten easy to read and apply chapters, which described what social action was and how to inspire student leadership. This book is an essential tool to help understanding the obstacles one may encounter when trying to inspire youth empowerment, so we rank it as a must-read for teachers looking to empower students.  

*Hollender, J (1990). How to make the world a better place: A guide to doing good. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.

This book is an essential guide for anyone who wants to work to be part of making this world a better place. The book is broken down into six main sections, providing the reader with 120 actions that can be taken by just about anyone to improve our world and participate in decreasing the harmful actions we are responsible for taking.

Coser, Lewis (1977). Masters of sociological thought: ideas in historical and social context (2nd Ed.) Fort Worth, Texas: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Graham, J (2005). Stick your neck out: A street-smart guide to creating change in your community and beyond. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Hoose, P (1993). It's our world, too! Young people who are making a difference, how
they do it-how you can too.
United States of America: Little, Brown and Company.

Lewis, B (1998). The kid's guide to social action: how to solve the social problems you choose and turn creative thinking into positive action. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.

Lewis, B (1998). What do you stand for? A kid's guide to building character. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.