Service learning with middle school students in special education can be a challenge. I teach in a school with 100% free and reduced lunch students and all of my students have significant emotional and behavioral challenges. They always ask me before I take them out to do community service, “why do we have to do this?” I tell them because it is a privilege for the taxpayers to provide them this special school to attend so they should help the community in return. That is usually enough of an explanation for them. They have a hard time focusing and staying on task, but when they get outside they become decent helpers. I know that this is also the beginning of teaching them a work ethic, persistence, initiative, and cooperation.
The skills students learn from participating in community service are not the kinds of skills that get assessed on tests, and they are not skills that are part of the Common Core, but they are skills that are necessary for getting along well in the adult world and keeping a job.