Hillary Schafer

Engaging Youth for Public Service

T he next generation of workers is already being educated in schools across the country. Our challenge is to ensure they are receiving the education they need to become productive workers in the years to come.The best way to do that just might surprise you: engaging young people in public service. When most people think about public service, they consider how it benefits the recipient.There’s no doubt that communities are strengthened when schools are fixed up and more families can put food on the table. Yet, I think this overlooks one of the most important benefits of public service: the skills it offers to those who participate. A young person running their own service project gains leadership, organization, and engagement skills that will benefit them as they continue their education and enter the workforce. Public service not only helps communities, but it trains young people to succeed in their own lives. This theory is backed up by a powerful new study by Marc Prensky, entitled Unleashing the Power of our 21st-Century Kids, which proposes a radical transformation in our education system. Prensky suggests that if you put kids together with real-world problems that they themselves perceive, the result is real world accomplishment, and they become good, empowered and effective world-improving people.

Prensky goes on to say, “Imagine if kids, after leaving K-12, entered college or a job recruiter’s office not as they do today, with a transcript of grades and (at best) a vague idea of what they would like to accomplish, but rather with an actual résumé of accomplishments, with scores of projects completed over a K-12 career, in multiple areas and roles, and a clear idea of the kinds of roles and projects that suit them best and that excite their passions.” That is exactly what the Jefferson Awards Foundation ( JAF) hopes to achieve with our youth programs. By having curricula focused on team building, leadership, community needs, project planning, fundraising, public speaking, tracking impact, marketing, media relations and scale, students are prepared to make a big impact in their communities and enter the workforce with the experience employers are looking for.Below are five of the core skills our students learn through public service. By cultivating and implementing these skills, students can become a powerful upcoming work force, which leads to long- term sustainability for our communities. 1. Identifying Problems. When students are presented with the opportunity to tackle the problems they are most passionate about solving, the vast majority identify community needs. Through public service, students hone their ability to identify problems by determining which issues are most pressing and which issues

they would be able to impact. Choosing to volunteer at a soup kitchen or lead a clothing drive means that a student has identified a problem, imagined a solution, and determined how much of their own time and resources to invest in solving that problem. 2. Team Building. In school, group assignments often lead to frustration. Yet teamwork is something that should be encouraged and valued. Through public service, students quickly learn how powerful teamwork can be. It becomes easily apparent that collecting ten cans of food for a local shelter is less productive than working with ten of your friends to collect ten cans each - and asking even more to join in the process. One of the most important skills to teach students is how to engage their peers to join them to multiply their impact. 3. Project Planning. It’s often too hard for young people to gain project-planning experience.The next workforce will require people to not only come up with big ideas, but also implement those ideas. Students won’t learn these skills through papers or tests, but through actionable projects they are able to organize and execute on their own. Public service offers a pathway for every young person, of any background, to take ownership of a service project from beginning to end. There’s no better way to learn how to plan a project than by

16 I Professional Performance

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