Youth Engaged in Communities Through School: National Service-Learning Leader Schools

Youth Engaged in Communities Through School: National Service-Learning Leader Schools
Youth Engaged in Communities Through School: National Service-Learning Leader Schools


According to the Department of Education, over one-third of the high schools in the United States include some form of service-learning in their curricula. The March 13th forum on Capitol Hill, sponsored by the American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), allowed policymakers to talk with students, teachers, and administrators from two high schools in Scottsdale, Arizona that have implemented model service-learning programs.

Forum Brief

Kathy Kretman, coordinator of the National Service-Learning Leader Schools Program with the Corporation for National Service, began the presentation with a discussion of the national movement for improved service-learning. John Calvin and John Baird, teachers at Saguaro High School and Coronado High School in Scottsdale, Arizona discussed service-learning from the instructor’s perspective. After the teachers and program administrators gave a brief overview of service-learning initiatives, the students on the panel fielded the majority of questions regarding service-learning.

The Corporation for National Service (CNS) defines service-learning as an educational process in which students apply academic lessons to solve real world problems. CNS selected 70 high schools in 1999 as National Service-Learning Leader Schools (NSLLS). According to Kathy Kretman, the director of this program for CNS, these schools have become “active winners,” serving as ambassadors to spread the message about the power of service-learning for engaging students in school. By opening the awards competition to middle schools as well as high schools this year, Kretman hopes that the NSLLS awards will foster the growth of service-learning in American primary and secondary education.

John Calvin directs the National Youth Leadership Center at Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, Arizona. Calvin, whose service-learning initiative won one of the 1999 NSLLS awards, began his career as a history teacher. After a few years, he realized that his history class was merely preparing students for trivia quiz shows rather than teaching them what they would need to know in the “real world.” Calvin began teaching service-learning in response to the demands of students, who wanted to commemorate Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. The students lobbied Congress and the National Parks Service until they finally won approval for a small museum in the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the rallies and marches for peace and freedom that have taken place on this historic site. The students in Calvin’s class learned more than just the text of King’s speech; they learned about legislation, politics, and perhaps most importantly, they learned to make history relevant.

Calvin’s class also inspired one student, John Baird, to become a teacher. After receiving his teaching certificate, Baird returned to Scottsdale to start his own service-learning program at Coronado High School. Baird’s LINKS program gets its name from a focus on Leadership, Integrity, Neighborhood, Knowledge, and Service. Most people, according to Baird, view the teacher as a railroad engine pulling students like train cars down a track of learning, but Baird says that service-learning allows the students to become their own engines. He believes that student leadership is the key to most successful service-learning programs.

Athea Schneider, a junior at Coronado High School, described three overarching goals of the LINKS program: service to the school, the community and the state. At their school, service-learning students focused on painting and restoring an aging athletic stadium. In their community, Coronado students worked with local business leaders to coordinate a food drive for the hungry, and in service to the state, they created Arizona Bound, a program that focuses on trail building and clean-up in public parks. According to Sara Cunningham, another Coronado student, the LINKS program started with only 16 students, but it now includes 160, because it “creates an environment where students can reach their full potential.” When asked for specific examples of how service-learning helps them academically, Coronado sophomore Stephanie Beherends noted that the LINKS program “contributes to problem-solving skills that are helpful on standardized tests.”

While the service-learning program at Coronado High School is growing by leaps and bounds, its partner program at Saguaro High School is creating nationally recognized youth initiatives. This year, one of the flagship projects at Saguaro is a rally, focusing on the issue of school violence. Katie McCarthy and Ashley Cassidy, the coordinators of the anti-violence project, are organizing a citywide rally on April 22 with nationally recognized bands and Hollywood celebrities, who will address recent violence in schools. The students have raised $150,000 for the project from corporate donations, including a pledge of $60,000 from Walmart. Organizing the rally has taught the students poise and persistence in presenting their plan to corporate sponsors, but it has also taught them more tangible math and accounting skills as they wrestle with a very large budget.

The students and teachers from Scottsdale present an inspirational model of service-learning. Although this model may be difficult to replicate in schools that lack the funds available at Saguaro and Coronado, it does reveal the possibilities of a student-centered educational strategy that is expanding rapidly in America’s schools.

This information is from an American Youth Policy Forum held on March 13, 2000 on Capitol Hill, reported by Steve Estes.

Presenter Information

John Baird


LINKS Program

Coronado High School

2501 North 74th Street

Scottsdale, AZ 85257

(480)-990-4300 x5718


John Calvin


National Youth Leadership Center

6250 N. 82nd Street

Scottsdale, AZ 85250



Kathy Kretman


National Service-Learning Leader Schools Program

Corporation for Nation Service

1150 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 1100

Washington, DC 20036



The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, provides learning opportunities for policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels. AYPF events and publications are made possible by contributions from philanthropic foundations. For a complete list, click here.