Integrating Service with Experiential Learning

As Service Learning Coordinator, Meredith Baldi '01 creates meaningful experiential learning experiences for George School students.

“My first experience with service learning at George School was as a student when I participated in the Arizona service trip,” Meredith Baldi ’01 recalled. “We went out to Navajo Nation and worked at Taanta Primary School, which turned out to be the first service trip that I led as a George School faculty member.” 

Experiencing the power of service learning first through the lens of a student and then as a faculty trip leader inspired Meredith to take on the role of Service Learning Coordinator. Now, she is building upon the strong legacy of service learning at George School.

Capitalizing on the academic calendar that is part of the Signature Academic Program, service learning focuses on integrating trips and projects with meaningful coursework that provides students context for their experiential learning. “Experiential learning is so much stronger when students have an academic foundation before they start the work, time structured at the end to process their experiences, and an adult who shares the experience to assess their learning to ensure that it is impactful,” Meredith explained.

“Service learning should be an educational experience–it is much more than community service. It is not a transaction of donating time without compensation; rather it’s about diving deep into understanding structural issues in our world, thinking about how you might improve those issues, and understanding what the limits are,” said Meredith. “This approach allows students to learn more about who they are, what they can contribute, and what they need to work on.”  Meredith plans to build on existing offerings for service courses so that students can participate in service learning that is related to their academic passions and interests with a range of locations that doesn’t always require travel. 

“Not everyone wants to or is able to travel all the way across the world,” she said. “We want students to be connected to our local community. It can be as rewarding for students to engage with the residents of Newtown as those in Tanzania.”

Meredith took a group of students to Athens, Greece in October 2022. “It was really interesting to see the students’ development over the course of the trip and see their passion for the refugee crisis expand as they engaged with the refugee community,” said Meredith. “Their ability to meet people affected by the Syrian civil war made them care about the impact of global conflict on the refugee crisis. Seeing the lack of governmental support sparked an interest in the limits of policy and motivated them to speak out more about unjust policies because they met the people being impacted.” 

“I have heard from other teachers since this course took place that certain students keep bringing up the injustices of the Dublin Agreement or talking about the impact this has on refugee children in particular,” Meredith said. “It is rewarding to see students who may or may not have cared about these topics beforehand, have a shift in their mindset and motivation because of what they experienced in Greece.”

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