It has been said that we should never confuse schooling with education. Junior, middle and high-schools are all important places of learning. They help students learn technical skills: multiplication, grammar, fixing cars, arguing the law, and playing the guitar to name a few. They provide ready-made courses of study and feedback on how well students follow those courses. But one can’t learn everything at school. Schooling is not well-suited to teach the ‘soft skills’ of life”.
Soft skills include the ability to:
- Deal with the unexpected;
- Manage our own time and resources well;
- Make and execute plans;
- Communicate with other people;
- Take the initiative; and
- Behave ethically and professionally.
These are the skills that employers are looking for in all sectors of the economy: from the professions to the trades; from government departments to big corporations. To learn these skills, students must leave the classroom. Edison Court’s Community Service program supervisor, Rob Sendlock, believes “Community service is an excellent way youth can learn skills while at the same time meeting their obligations to the court.” Edison Court’s Community Service Program works with youth who have broken a law and are assigned community service to repay restitution, fulfill a court ruling, or to act as a disciplinary alternative. Even for youth who hold paid employment they may struggle to find work that gives them enough variety to develop certain soft skills. An education in soft skills, like time-management, effective communication, and emotional resilience, complements an education in technical skills. “Community service is an excellent way to develop soft skills. “
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Sendlock and his team have created some creative opportunities for youth to complete community service while maintaining social distancing. “We try to let the kids come up with service projects to help develop autonomy and ownership.” For example, some have done landscape projects in their neighborhoods, written letters of appreciation to first responders, or collected and donated clothing.
Community service provides a free opportunity to do challenging work that tests intelligence, self-discipline, and social abilities. We should see community service not only as a channel for helping/restoring others but also as a chance for youth to educate themselves and to make themselves more marketable to employers.