Winter 2014

Friends of Wingra

Service Learning: Teaching Civic Engagement

by Mary Campbell, Education Director

Service learning combines classroom instruction with meaningful community service. It places an emphasis on critical thinking and personal reflection while encouraging connections to the community, civic engagement, and personal “response-ability”.

Our goals are to

  • Integrate learning
  • Address genuine needs in the community
  • Incorporate youth voice and choice
  • Collaborate
  • Recognize the value of the partner organization
  • Practice civic responsibility (Thinking of this word as response-able, helping students be “able” to respond”)

Last year, Wingra School staff created some time each month to strengthen our school-wide commitment through meaningful service projects. Students, working with their learning partners, met in multi-age groups to identify and address needs within our school.

They focused on issues such as energy use, conservation of resources, composting, recycling, Box Tops for Education, and gardening.

This year we have worked to build on these successes as we extend our service projects into the wider community. We have service learning groups connected to six community partners for the 2013–2014 school year:

UW Children’s Hospital: This group is learning about the resources and needs of the American Family Children’s Hospital at UW Madison. They’re creating boredom-be-gone kits and blankets for “Project Linus”.

Friends of Lake Wingra: This group toured the water runoff path from Wingra School grounds to Lake Wingra, looking at construction sites, flow patterns, and contents of runoff in the lake. See blog at

Fritz Food Pantry at the Goodman Community Center: This group is studying food equity issues in our community and resources available at the Goodman Community Center. They ran a food drive and donated food in November. They’re planning a “baby shower” for March.

Eagle Heights Community Center: This group is engaging with preschool children from around the world at the Eagle Heights Community Center related to the theme of Underwater Worlds.

Little Free Libraries: They are constructing, decorating, placing, and filling four Little Free Libraries throughout the community.

Madison Environmental Group (MEG): This group is studying the greening of schools and homes using the resources from MEG to create public service announcements.

Service learning groups meet twice each month for a total of three hours, working at school, at the partner organization’s site, or out in the greater community. Groups consist of 11 pairs of learning partners, ages 5 to 14.

Through these experiences our students are experiencing a greater comfort in and connection to their K–8 school community, which studies have shown will increase their academic achievement and involvement in school through high school and college!

It is our hope that these service learning projects will allow students to bring the head and heart together to do meaningful and good work in the wider Madison community, with a voice in how and what they contribute.