The volunteers of the Civic Literacy Project believe that young people can be community assets and the force for civic renewal. Founded in 1997, the Civic Literacy Project provides youth with a positive way to be involved in their communities – through academic service learning that addresses locally defined community needs. With only three staff members, two AmeriCorps Promise Fellows, dedicated volunteers and a budget of under a quarter of a million dollars, the Civic Literacy Project has engaged tens of thousands of students around Indiana in service-learning projects – educating young people while they serve their community.
The Civic Literacy Project works with students, teachers, administrators, and college education departments around Indiana to embed academic service-learning into the curriculum, through three programs: Embedding Service-learning into Teacher Education, Indiana Service learning Compact, and Service-learning and Teaching Aligned to Reform Schools (STAR Schools). Working collaboratively with other agencies, the Embedding Service-learning into Teacher Education program helps college departments of education provide education majors with the opportunity to study, participate in, and teach service learning. Established by the Indiana Department of Education and the Civic Literacy Project, the Indiana Service-learning Compact is a consortium of school superintendents that are committed to service learning. Finally, the STAR Schools initiative helps to create long-term change in schools to make service-learning a core component of the school.
Though the Civic Literacy Project directly conducts service-learning programs, the majority of the service-learning projects occur at the school-level in communities throughout Indiana – from Gary in the north to New Albany in the south. As a part of the program, students first conduct an asset map of their community and talk with community members to determine the overlap between the community needs and the academic outcomes of the course, so the project has a valuable service and learning role. For example, in one project the elementary students wanted to help the senior citizens that volunteer at the school as tutors. After talking with the seniors, they started a computer literacy class that the elementary students taught to their senior friends.
Projects range from working on Habitat for Humanity houses or volunteering with animal shelters, to working with America Reads of Family Matters. They involve students from Kindergarten through College, and work with premature babies through senior citizens and all of the projects meet real community needs.
Most of the Civic Literacy Project initiatives have been sustained for three years and involve more than 20,000 students, and 5,000 adult volunteers throughout the state of Indiana. Quantitative evaluations of the programs show that they provide students with adults and friends to whom they can turn, as well as increasing their efficacy and self-concept. Ongoing research reveals a significant, positive impact on students’ attitudes toward school, grades, and attendance. After participating in service-learning projects, students are more intent on voting in election and participating in political life.