A Glorious Revolution for Youth and Communities: Service-Learning and Model Communities

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George I. Whitehead III and Andrew P. Kitzrow
Rowman & Littlefield Education
129 pages. $70 hardcover, $27.95 paperback

After helping Salisbury, Md., become one of America’s Promise Alliance’s 100 Best Communities for Young People, George Whitehead and Andrew Kitzrow offer a blueprint for integrating positive youth development and advocacy to create communities where young people flourish.

They recommend service-learning in schools, as a way for students to practice skills needed for community involvement: information literacy, problem solving, and critical and creative thinking. When young people visit the elderly or start a community garden, “the whole community works together to embrace youth and their ideas.”

The authors’ own model community concept at the heart of this book allows this “paradigm shift” in attitudes to occur.

Whitehead, a psychology professor who wrote a book about service-learning, and Kitzrow, who works in youth recreation and advocacy, diagram their model community as a square with service-learning in the center. Its four “cornerstones” – endorse, embrace, enrich and empower – help to develop communities where youth and adults cooperate on equal terms.

“Endorse,” for example, means endorsing positive behavior instead of punishing negative behavior. For example, if the media overemphasizes youth violence, publicize young people’s accomplishments and reward volunteer efforts.

Youth empowerment, the most crucial cornerstone, has its own separate model, with decision-making at the center, flanked by qualities that foster individual and community commitment.

“The only way to shift the mentality of the youth is to first shift adults’ perspectives on the role of youth,” say Whitehead and Kitzrow. With probing questions to help leaders assess their situations, they provide tools and strategies for making this shift. They cite such existing initiatives as the annual 24-Hour Relay Challenge in Bellevue, Wash., which partners 1,500 teens and adults with 133 community sponsors to raise community spirit and funds for youth programs.

Although this model community concept will interest youth and community leaders and educators, certain flaws in organization undermine the book’s utility.

Before readers encounter the model that demonstrates service-learning’s importance, four early chapters describe how to teach service-learning skills. Dull research summaries obscure these techniques for busy middle and high school teachers planning lessons. Examples of service-learning projects are sparse.

Only by persevering until Chapter 6, where discussion of how to meld service-learning with youth development and community involvement begins, will readers grasp the main concept.

The solution? After reading Chapter 1, skip to Chapter 6. Read the chapters about teaching only if you need them. The authors’ preface should make that suggestion; it does describe the book’s three parts, but they aren’t marked in any way. Chapters 6 through 10 should have been switched with Chapters 2 through 5. Recommendations for further resources – especially websites – are missing. And while the authors call for youth voices, they quote none.

For those willing to cope with such frustrations, these ideas for involving youth as partners in model communities are worth pursuing. (800) 462-6420, http://www.rowmaneducation.com.