CPS High School Student Service Learning Graduation Requirement:

Beginning with the Class of 2020, high school students (current 9th, 10th, and 11th grade students) must complete 2 classroom-integrated service learning projects. Service learning projects should not be one-offs; they must be linked to academic goals and curriculum and should build civic skills through centering student voice and identity. Service Learning FAQ

What is a Service Learning Project?

  • Rooted in a teaching strategy that connects classroom curriculum with authentic community issues and assets.
  • Sustains students’ engagement in the community while building social, civic, and academic skills.
  • Begins with inquiry and engages student identity and leadership.

What Has Changed?

Old New

Service Learning Graduation Requirement (ends 2019): 40 hours.

Service Learning Requirement (began 2016): 2 classroom-integrated Service Learning Projects: one in Civics and one in any other content area.

Students were responsible for completing hours through volunteering after school and in school.

Teachers are responsible for embedding service learning projects in content area courses. In projects, teachers partner with students in a sustained inquiry and action process. Students participate in the projects like other assignments: they are not add-ons or optional.

Service Learning Hours were generally individual, often one-offs, and disconnected from school learning and culture.

Service Learning Projects are sustained, collaborative and foster school-community connections while building student identity, agency, and authority.

Service Learning Hours focused on the work of the site or organization.

Service Learning Projects are inquiry-based, rooted in students’ identities and aimed at strengthening their cognitive growth and civic power. Partners can support projects but are not required.

Supported through forms, lists, and other paper documentation. Classroom projects were teacher-driven and required approval of Service Learning Coach.

Projects align to content area standards and deepen students’ learning through real-life applications of course content. As with other instructional decisions, teachers plan for projects through professional collaboration and without requiring external approval. Service Learning Coaches support projects through brainstorming ideas and resources and offering logistical help such as ordering busses.

OLD Project Example: After reading an article their teacher assigned them about pollution in Lake Michigan, students participated in a beach clean with Biology class, and wrote a reflection about their day.

NEW Project Example: The Biology teacher presented students with a question: Why do people litter in Chicago? Students do research through interviews and surveys, analyze their findings, do a root cause analysis, ask public officials questions about trash pickup and neighborhood beautification policies,and design a project to address a cause of littering they identified. They may decide that the most effective action to address the problem is a beach clean, or they may decide on a different action. Their reflection process is not on one day of action, but on the skills they practiced, knowledge they developed, and their own sustainable civic agency.

For more information, contact Shanti Elliott, Service Learning Manager: skelliott1@cps.edu/ 773-553-6147


The Department of Social Science & Civic Engagement supports the implementation of the Service Learning graduation requirement. The following guidelines are currently in place to guide our work.


Service Learning is a teaching strategy that connects classroom curriculum with service projects. Service Learning engages students in projects that serve the community while building social, civic, and academic skills.

Service Learning is a pedagogical strategy, not an outcome. Service Learning is an opportunity for students to develop Common Core skills and 21st century skills (Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, and Critical Thinking/Problem Solving) through project preparation and development, execution, and reflection.

Research indicates that when students participate in high quality Service Learning we see positive academic, social/emotional, and civic outcomes.

Stages of Service Learning

In order to qualify as a Service Learning project, a service experience must include the following components:

  • Preparation - Students prepare for their service by learning about the issue, building their skills and knowledge, and developing an action plan for service.
  • Action - Students engage in meaningful service by working on a project that will make a difference in their community and is tied to their classroom curriculum.
  • Reflection - Teachers enable students to analyze and make sense of their experience through discussion, journaling, and presentation opportunities.

Service Learning Implementation

Each school will develop a strategy to ensure that all students can fully participate in Service Learning projects during their years in high school. For the graduating classes of 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 ONLY schools can choose from among the following options:

  • One classroom-integrated Service Learning project + 25 individual service hours
  • Two classroom-integrated Service Learning projects + 15 individual service hours
  • Three classroom-integrated Service Learning projects

For the graduating class of 2020 and beyond (incoming Freshman of 2016-2017 SY) schools can choose among the following:

  • One Service Learning project in Civics or AP Government Course + One classroom-integrated Service Learning project (in any additional course)
  • One Service Learning project in Civics or AP Government Course + One independent Service Learning project


For more information about the new Service Learning policy please read the New Service Learning Policy FAQ.

As schools plan how they will facilitate classroom-integrated Service Learning projects, we encourage them to offer a combination of Classroom-Integrated Service Projects and supported Independent Projects. The Department of Literacy: Civic Engagement and Service Learning recommends Classroom-Integrated Service Projects as being very appropriate for freshmen and sophomores and Independent Projects as being more appropriate for juniors and seniors.

Service Learning Practice Standards

Service Learning projects should meet the following standards of excellent practice:

  • Youth Voice
  • Meaningful Service
  • Curriculum Integration
  • Reflection
  • Community Partnerships
  • Progress Monitoring
  • Duration and Intensity
  • Diversity

For more detailed information about the Service Learning standards, please visit the National Youth Leadership Council.

Service Learning Project Approval

All Service Learning projects and experiences must be pre-approved by the school's Service Learning Coach. Teachers and other faculty members should complete the Service Learning Project Certification (Forms). Service Learning credit will not be granted for projects that have not been pre-approved. Students must have the approval of the Service Learning Coach prior to beginning independent Service Learning projects.

Project Assessment

At the completion of each classroom-integrated Service Learning project, teachers should administer a brief project assessment for students to complete. The project assessment form enables both the teacher and the District to gain an understanding of the student experience during the Service Learning project and can be downloaded at the Forms link.

Project Resources

The Department of Social Science & Civic Engagement has Service Learning project exemplars, curriculum and other resources available for teachers and schools at the Curriculum link. Professional development opportunities for schools and individual teachers are also available for planning, design, implementation, and assessment purposes. Please contact Shanti Elliott, Service Learning Manager, skelliott1@cps.edu, 773-553-6147 to request a professional development session.

Restricted Service Activities

Students may not earn Service Learning credit through the following:

  • Work with for-profit businesses and corporations;
  • Work with religious organizations if the service involves promoting a particular faith;
  • Volunteer work where no academic objective is addressed;
  • Work that is financially reimbursed;
  • Participation in a sports team or other extra-curricular activity unless that group designs a Service Learning project that contains the components listed above
  • Assisting a teacher (i.e. correcting papers, cleaning the classroom)
  • Artistic performances or recitals unless students are involved in creating a project that includes a performance as an outcome of the project
  • Attending a workshop, conference or other educational event unless that training leads directly to a service project.

For more information about restricted activities contact the Service Learning Coach at your school or Shanti Elliott, Service Learning Manager, skelliott1@cps.edu, 773-553-6147.  

Project Criteria

Classroom teachers may develop or choose to facilitate a Service Learning project with his/her students that includes the entire class and aligns with classroom instructional goals.  

Independent Project Criteria

Classroom teachers may choose to ask students to complete service outside of the classroom individually or in teams and tie the service experiences to classroom content.

Page Last Modified on Tuesday, March 05, 2019