Back to School: Community Service Days as an Alternative to Distance Learning Days.

A Proposal for a Corporate, Community Partnership in Student Civic Responsibility

Image of students cleaning up trash
Image by Alison Doucette

The consensus is growing around “outside-good, inside-bad” when it comes to spreading the COVID-19 virus. When political leaders and others say they need to get students back to school, the need expressed is for in-person education by teachers. However, a seemingly equally important driver is simply to get kids out of the house so that parents can get back to working productively.

School districts recognize that the shorter attention spans of younger children require that they prioritize in-person learning for students in lower elementary grades. They equally need to prioritize students with special needs. School leaders are also realizing that they just don’t have the space or the staffing for the higher grades to be safely in classrooms everyday. The default solution is distance/online learning.

Online Learning done well can be truly engaging and interesting for many students, but for some students it is “screen-time” they would prefer to avoid.

Online learning solutions may work in some geographies, but remote learning is a challenge for many communities without adequate broadband access. Based on the map below broadband access varies significantly across the U.S. (paler brown indicates limited access). As cities in California move all online for the school year, there maybe space for “activity days”.

One solution could be to focus on project based learning which would occur outdoors in the community at large. What if some school days could be community service days for students? In more rural areas, students could clear trails or help small farmers or craft entrepreneurs. In towns and cities, students could help clean up parks or unload trucks at food banks or create community gardens. There are more than enough community organizations who need volunteers!

Would the students be safe? Probably not as safe as at home, but wearing masks and working outside they would likely be safer than in poorly ventilated classrooms. Would teachers and other group leaders be safe? Probably safer than indoors in office buildings with windows that do not open and older filtration systems. Would the bus drivers be safe? Ideally yes, if other responsible adults on the bus suggested wearing masks is a good idea.

Image of students cleaning building raised beds
Image by Alison Doucette

What about the student’s education? Students might learn more about their communities or be exposed to more diverse people. Corporations in ethnically diverse regions could demonstrate their Black Lives Matter efforts by investing a day in education. If curriculum and/or demonstration of learning is a concern, students could write or present about how what they did during their community service day relates to something they are learning in school. If they can’t do that, then Houston we do have a problem.

Finally school districts could present themselves to their communities as promoting service and civic duty which would not hurt one bit as they reach out for increases in school budgets for cleaning and other costs associated with COVID-19.

This somewhat idealistic proposal would face some challenges:

  • Would corporations loan employees to act as group leaders or sponsor community service days?
  • Would parents volunteer a day to act as group leaders to give their children this option?
  • Would school districts support school buses for this use?
  • Would the legal community be able to agree on how to update the field trip form for this approach so potential lawsuits do not present a barrier?

What about you?

  • If you are a business leader, would you offer time for your employees to help with this effort?
  • If you are a school leader would you work with the community to make this possible?
  • If you are a parent would you be happy with your child learning outside and helping in the community as an alternative to home schooling online a few days a month?
  • If you are a community group leader could you use some youthful volunteers?

If your answer is yes, then reach out to your local school districts and regions and suggest this opportunity as a way forward. In the end, we might raise a whole new group of civic-minded leaders.

Image of students cleaning up trash
Image by Alison Doucette

Love building product with AI smarts and great UX, playing soccer and learning data science

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store