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National Service and Inclusion Project

Inclusion: The active engagement of people with disabilities as service members in all levels of national and community service

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Resources to Support Inclusion of Youth with Disabilities in Service-Learning

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Service-learning by definition provides students hands-on experience to help them integrate learning done in a classroom setting, connects them to other people in their community to improve social skills and empowers them through their feeling and seeing the positive impact they have on the community. The resource list below is meant to encourage and help educators working with children and adolescents with disabilities to enhance their teaching process through planning, implementation and evaluation of service-learning projects.

The list is divided into the following categories:


Berger Kaye, C. (2004) The Complete Guide to Service Learning: Proven Practical Ways to Engage Students in Civic Responsibility, Academic Curriculum, and Social Action. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing, Inc.
This book gives an overview definition of what service-learning is and the basic steps in planning, conducting and evaluating the projects. It has forms to use to help in the process. It then breaks down chapters by types of service-learning projects a teacher might do with students from HIV/AIDS to literacy related projects. Each chapter has descriptions of projects conducted by teachers for various age groups and provides literature that can be used in planning and as part of the lessons for students as part of the curriculum. The final chapter in the book describes projects that can target people with disabilities, and projects that can be conducted with both students with and without disabilities.

Gent, P.J. (2009) Great Ideas: Using Service Learning and Differentiated Instruction to Help Your Students Succeed. Baltimore: P.H. Brooks Publishing Company.
According to the National Service Learning Clearinghouse this book shows educators and administrators exactly how the service-learning approach: helps students with and without disabilities meet academic standards; facilitates generalization as students transfer what they learn from the classroom to the real world; works with both student-directed and teacher-mediated instructional approaches; fosters strong classroom communities where all students help and learn from each other; builds students' functional life skills and encourages the development of special talents; enhances job skills and work experience so students are better prepared for their future careers; helps students develop a positive self-image as they provide valuable services to their community. Readers will get a complete guide to every step of service-learning, from planning and funding it to monitoring the results. They'll also find practical forms to help them assign student roles determine necessary resources, differentiate instruction, and more. A fresh, hands-on guide that goes beyond co-teaching, collaboration, and accommodations, this highly practical book will help educators make the most of every student's unique abilities-- and build better communities inside and outside of the classroom.

Wilczenski, F., Coomey, S.M. (2007) A Practical Guide to Service Learning: Strategies for Positive Development. Boston: Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.
This book is a comprehensive guide to service-learning as an intervention that can be both remedial or preventive and individual or systemic, can enable school counselors and psychologists to expand their role beyond special populations to serve students within the academic mainstream. Chapter 7 describes ways to include students with disabilities in service-learning activities. It can be found on Google Books at

Journal Articles

n.b. To access a complete journal article from any citation listed below, please use the corresponding link. Of the citations listed, some require a subscription to the publisher to view the content. This is indicated per citation if applicable. For general links to publishers that offer access to some of the articles cited, please see:

Abernathy, T.V. and Obechain, K.M. (2001) Student Ownership of Service-Learning Projects: Including Ourselves in Our Community. School and Clinic. Vol. 37, No. 2 (p. 86-95). -Needs subscription
This article is a guide to planning and implementing service-learning projects with students with learning disabilities. It describes service-learning and advocates the full inclusion of students as planners’ not just implementers of projects. They advocate this because the students will learn more skills, especially as it relates to understanding the needs of the larger community and how to work in groups and become more empowered as individuals. The process is compared to the steps needed to build a home and a five step service-learning process is described in detail.
One may access and purchase this journal and article through:

Brill, C. (1994) The Effects of Participation on Adolescents with Disabilities. Journal of Adolescence, 17, 369-380. -Needs subscription

This article describes the finding of a study conducted regarding the impact of service-learning on high school students with disabilities. The method was through a survey of 13 special education teachers who had students participate in service-learning with students both with and without non-disabled students through support from the Maryland Student Service Alliance. The students had been involved in service-learning for between 6 and 21 months before the teachers were surveyed. The survey focused on variables such as socialization, behavior, academic skills, functional skills, attitudes and attendance. The results were varied depending on the level of disability of the students involved.
One may access and purchase this journal and article through:

Constitutional Rights Foundation, Service-Learning Network, Service Learning and Special Education, Service Learning and Special Education Turning the Table. Winter 2002, Vol. 9, No.2.
One may access this article through the following link:

At-Risk: Building a Future Through Service Learning – Beverly Jackson
This article focuses on The Rotational Work Program established at Crook County High School in Prineville Oregon beginning in 1996. It is a descriptive piece about the structure and process of the program and informal evaluation of the impact of the program on the original 8 students that took part in the program at its inception. The program focused on combining the Oregon state educational standards in partnership with several natural resource agencies to provide hands-on, community based opportunities to the students. They worked with these organizations to maintain local parks, test water quality and help the elderly after a flood. They also created a tutoring program for elementary school students with disabilities. The student participants were all in Special Education programs in school with IEPs. Two had been expelled, but were brought back into the school to take part. Several years out 7 of the students are productive citizens with jobs.

The Great Leveler: Service Learning and Disabilities – Cynthia McCauley This article is a descriptive piece about how the Pennsylvania Service-Learning Alliance (PSLA) utilized a Disability Outreach Grant to provide funding to 12 collaborative groups including Special Education Teachers, several national non-profits and local community partners in order to implement service-learning projects.

BINGO at Bay High School This is another short descriptive article which illustrates a service-learning program implemented at a high school in Florida. With grant support they implemented a comprehensive program that combines service-learning for students with and without disabilities. The students without disabilities get school credit for mentoring/tutoring students with disabilities. There are also multiple service-learning projects that students with and without disabilities can take part-in. They are collaborative projects supported by the schools, local community organizations and Serve and Learn.

Dymond, S.K, Renzaglia, A. & Chun, E.J. (2007). Elements of effective high school service learning programs that include students with and without disabilities. Remedial and Special Education 28:4 227-243. -Needs subscription
According to this article, despite the momentum of inclusive education, examples of specifically inclusive service-learning programs are limited; and little empirical evidence is available to support this practice as an evidence-based approach. For this reason, the authors conducted a qualitative research project with people involved in high school service-learning programs that included students with and without disabilities as participants. This project involved selecting five focus groups from diverse settings to interview about their perceptions of effective service-learning efforts at the high school level. Dymond et al. wished to understand how the beliefs of stakeholders from inclusive high school service-learning programs differed from what had been presented in the literature. What Dymond et al. discovered was that these 5 exceptional inclusive high school service-learning programs were so focused on including everyone (students, teachers, businesses, parents, community organizations), that “the presence of students with disabilities was never cited as a reason for redefining an existing element” (Dymond, et al., 2007:240). Thus, they found that these exceptional service-learning programs, though diverse, were alike in being systemically inclusive in all aspects.
This article can be found through the following publishers and/or databases:

Frey, L. (2003) Abundant Beautification An Effective Service-Learning Project for Students with Emotional or Behavioral Disorders. Teaching Exceptional Children. Vol.35, No. 5, p. 66-75. -Needs subscription
This article provides a detailed description of the implementation of a service-learning project involving students with severe emotional and behavior disorders who were students at the Missouri Therapeutic Learning Center. The students, faculty and community partners planned and implemented a landscape architecture project at a community for the elderly. The project measured school related data of the students during the fall, winter and spring quarters of the school year, and found that absences, out-of-school suspensions, safe school violations, profanity/obscenity reports and other markers of anti-social behavior decreased during the process of the project. They also found that most students surveyed found that the project had a positive impact on their understanding of themselves and others.
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Gent, P. and Gurecka, L. (1998) Service Learning: A Creative Strategy for Inclusive Classrooms. The Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps. Vol. 23, No. 3, p. 261-271. -Needs subscription
This article defines service-learning and discusses how it may be used in an inclusive manner. There is a detailed description of each of the components four components of service-learning from preparation to celebration. Each stage is defined and several examples of what tasks need to be accomplished and have been in real world situations are described. The authors advocate for the use of service-learning to meet the needs of all students and provide arguments for why service-learning is a good teaching tool. They discuss application of knowledge to real world activities, development of community and critical thinking. They provide one detailed case example from the perspective of a 6th grade girl taking part in a car seat drive project. They then discuss the support systems needed to implement such projects such as partnerships, financial support, advisory boards, and administrative support. In their conclusion, they call for more research into the impact of service-learning on the children involved, especially those with disabilities.
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Gent, P.J. and Gurecka, L.E. (2001) Service Learning: A Disservice to People with Disabilities. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning. Fall p. 36-43.
One may access this article through the following link:

This article is a discussion of how service-learning projects that use people with disabilities as the “charity” students without disabilities provide service to, reinforces prejudices and further removes people with disabilities from inclusion in society. There is discussion of the various stereotypes which are reinforced, such as people with disabilities as child-like and in need of care. They recommend ways to create better service-learning projects. They suggest training teachers in disability issues, better training in service-learning for teachers, in-depth reflection on the projects after they are completed. They finally suggest that the best service-learning involves all kinds of students in political action, because it is very empowering for all and focuses on changing the society we live in, rather than pitying those who are disempowered by the system we live in.

Karayan, S. and Gathercoal, P. (2003) Service Learning: Empowering students with Special Needs. Academic Exchange Quarterly. Summer, p.151. -Needs subscription
This article is a study of a teaching program and the use of service-learning with students with and without special needs. They used a qualitative study method called “Portraiture” to analyze three types of service-learning projects: “deficit model”, “empowerment model” and “reciprocal empowerment model”. In the “deficit model”, students with disabilities are used as a charity. In the “empowerment model”, students with disabilities are still a charity, but they are included in the project that will impact their lives. In the “reciprocal empowerment model”, the projects are fully inclusive and the community is the charity. The authors provide very specific details to illustrate the models and advocate for working towards the “reciprocal empowerment model”.
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Kluth, P. (2000). Community-Referenced Learning and the Inclusive Classroom. Remedial and Special Education. Volume 21, Number 1, p. 19-26. -Needs subscription
This article gives historical background information on the theoretical underpinnings for learning in community settings and describes the history of community-referenced learning in special education. It promotes the use of the three types of community-referenced learning: work experience, research teams and service-learning as ways inclusive learning can be implemented by schools. The author describes specific examples of these types of learning from real schools in Oregon, Arizona and Washington states.
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Muscott, H.S. (2000) A Review and Analysis of Service Learning Programs Involving Students with Emotional/Behavioral Disorders. Education and Treatment of Children. Vol. 23, No. 3 p.346-368. -Needs subscription
This is a meta-analysis of the literature available regarding service-learning projects conducted with students with Emotional/Behavioral Disorders. Muscott found only 11 articles during his wide search in 2000. He found overall that the articles were descriptive and anecdotal rather than science based in relation to evaluation of these programs. He begins with information regarding service and service-learning. Then discusses the recognized types of service: direct, indirect and advocacy. He uses the literature to describe what is considered best practices in service-learning generally (not as it relates to EBD participants). He describes the challenges of working with young people with EBD. He then goes into a detailed review of the literature he found regarding service-learning participants with EBD. He groups the projects by type such as “broad-based servicelearning programs”, “Specific project-based service learning programs” and “Complex, multi-level service learning programs” and describes the structure and process of each. He describes the outcomes the programs as positive according to the authors, but all the evidence is anecdotal with little to no scientific data to back up the claims. He concludes that evaluations of these kinds of programs need to be methodologically more rigorous if they are to measure the real quantitative impact they are having on the students with EBD.
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Muscott, H.S. (2001) An Introduction to Service Learning for Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions. Beyond Behavior. Vol. 10, No. 3.
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The introduction of this article discusses a philosophical shift in recent years from “curriculum of control” used with students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders (EBD) to one which focuses on helping the student to reclaim their environment through activities that help them learn empathy, human connections, achieve personal growth, mastery, autonomy and independence.
The Author focuses throughout the article on how to use service-learning to help students with EBD to master these skills.
He covers the following topics:

Olnes, L. (2008) Special Projects Special People: Students with Disabilities Serve Others through Service-Learning Projects. Teaching Exceptional Children Plus. Vol. 5, Issue 2. p. 2-13. -Needs subscription
This article is based on a small non-scientific designed, qualitative study of five students in inclusive classrooms and the impact of service-learning on their self-esteem and motivation to learn. The author is a Special Education teacher. She begins with a discussion of previous literature which illustrates the passiveness and low self esteem of children with disabilities and the positive impact service-learning may have on these students in relation to their motivation in the school setting and on their behavior.
The method of her study was to observe and interview five students with learning disabilities with IEP's and their teachers and parents, and use observation notes while implementing a service-learning intervention (curriculum) to study the impact on the five students’ self-esteem, motivation to learn and levels of empathy. The projects were writing letters to troops in Iraq, visiting with elderly and a food pet drive. The intervention was having all students in a classroom choose, plan and implement several service projects over the course of the school year. The children met in committees depending on the project with guidance from a teacher, and with some involvement of parents.
The author collected data using surveys, observation notes, work samples and interviews. The findings are detailed by describing the experience of each of the students from their perspective and the perspective of the teachers and parents of the children. Her conclusions were that the students’ motivation was increased, they showed caring for each other and those they were serving, they made connections between learning in school and the real world and improved their social skills and self confidence.
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Scott, V.G., (2006) Incorporating Service Learning Into Your Special Education Classroom. School and Clinic. Vol. 42, No. 1, p. 25-29. -Needs subscription
This article sets out guidelines for implementing service-learning into teaching students with disabilities. It identifies the following steps to create a successful structure and process and explains them in detail, 1) identify curriculum goals and ensure whatever project you do keeps those goals in mind, 2) identify a common need in the community, 3) determine how involved the students will be in each step in the process, 4) get buy-in from school administrators, 5) involve students in each phase of the project from planning to celebration and evaluation, 6) involve the community agency one is collaborating in the planning, implementation, celebration and evaluation of the project, 7) ensure parents support project, 8) ensure time is set aside in every participants schedule for the projects, 9) prepare students for the experience, 10) teach students social skills to help in community integration process, 11) implement project, 12) monitor students during implementation to ensure they are engaged and benefitting from activities, 13) have a plan to deal with problems that may arise during implementation, 14) encourage student reflection because it helps to integrate learning, 15) assess what students knowledge to ensure they have learned the skills intended by the project, 16) Evaluate outcomes and 17) celebration of accomplishments.
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Shoultz, L. and Lakin, K.C. (2001) Volunteer and Service Learning Opportunities for People with Disabilities. Impact: Feature Issue on Volunteerism by Persons with Disabilities, 14(2). p. 2-3.
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This article is an overview of the types of volunteering available such as Voluntary Service, Community Service and Service-Learning. It begins by describing a history of forced volunteering for room and board for people with disabilities. The goes on to describe why volunteering can be a positive experience for those with disabilities and why. It outlines barriers to volunteering and concludes with ways those barriers and can be overcome.

Smith, J.G., Mavis, A.L. and Washenburger, J. (2001) Preparing Youth with Disabilities for Volunteer Service as Adults. Impact: Feature Issue on Volunteerism by Persons with Disabilities, 14(2). p. 10-11.
One may access and download this article through:

This article is an overview of the difficult transition youth with disabilities have to living adult life and what needs to be done to improve that transition and help them become full members of the communities they live in. The authors focus on service-learning as a way to improve the transition for youth with disabilities into adult work and social life. The article describes the kind of characteristics service-learning programs should have to help young people develop the work and social skills they will need as adults and those that have been successful in helping them transition. For example they state that the programs should offer real skill development, activities and environments that build self efficacy and provide a high level of emotional and developmental support.

Teacher Training Guides and Service-Learning Curricula

Summary of: “Playing in the PARC: Inclusive Service Learning Manual” Funds provided by the New York State Developmental Disabilities Planning Council with additional funds from the CNCS through the NY State Education Department Learn and Serve America Program
One may access and download this article through the following link:

This document is broken down into sections and I have given a summary of important points in the most pertinent sections:
Introduction - Discussion of the background and purpose of the manual.

Definition of Service-Learning

Exemplary Practices and Challenges in Inclusive Service-Learning

In both of the following sections there is much discussion of the positive impact on children’s learning and development the projects had

Resources in Inclusive Service-Learning

These resources include templates and planning tools, program assessment tools, marketing tools, student work, linking standards to service-learning all used in NY area schools funded by the grants from this project.

“Inclusive Service Learning: A Training Guide for K-12 Teachers” Hampshire Educational Collaborative (2003).
This book/guide provides worksheets and resources to compliment a training video. It includes sections on preparation, action, reflection, recognition and reference contacts. Access to it can be found through the National Service Learning Clearinghouse at

“From You Can’t to You Can: Service Learning for Students with Disabilities” Hampshire Educational Collaborative (2002).
This is a video that is an instructional presentation for K-12 teachers who want to plan and implement inclusive service-learning projects. Access to it can be found the National Service Learning Clearinghouse at

National Service Inclusion Project, Teleconference on service-learning and individual education plans.
This is a recording of a training regarding how to integrate service-learning into IEPs. It is available through the National Service Inclusion project web site by clicking on the following links:

Maryland State Department of Education: Service Learning Special Education Units Aligned with the Maryland State Curriculum Updated September 2009.
The curriculum named above is an extensive curriculum with many lesson plans for teaching important tenets of Science, Social Studies, Health, Math Art, Family and Consumer Sciences, Reading/Language Arts, Technology, Visual Arts and Library Media to students with IEPs. The curriculum is broken down by Primary Subject Area, Grade Level targeted and Type of Service Learning Action. The type of service-learning action can be Direct, Indirect and/or Advocacy. Some examples of lesson plans are: Anti-bullying and Disability Awareness, Favors and Flavors (about providing nutritious food to needy families) and Going Green and Staying Green (about how to be environmentally conscious).

Stewart, David. State Superintendent of Schools, West Virginia's Service-Learning Lesson-Plans for K-12 Challenged Students. p. 1-194.
This piece is a document created by the State of West Virginia with support from CNCS. It is a printing of 78 service-learning lesson plans that are directly linked to the state's Instructional Goals and Objectives and are specifically focused on addressing local needs in education, public safety, human services and the environment with students with disabilities. Each lesson plan is broken down into sections using a structure for teachers to follow in implementing a lesson with their students. The sections are as follows: 1) Community Objective, 2) Background, 3) Challenged Student Conditions, which describes ways to adapt a lesson for students with disabilities. For example, it may say to provide materials in large print or Braille, 4) Resources (what you need to implement the lesson), 5) Timeline of Service Activities, 6) Reflection, 7) Celebration, and 8) Academic Objectives.

Vandercook, T., Montie, J. (2010) Together We Can Make A Difference: An Inclusive Service Learning Curriculum for Elementary Learners With and Without Disabilities. Published by the National Inclusion Project in Collaboration with the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota: or at

At the Inclusion Projects website, they have a "Curriculum Overview" which describes the curriculum listed above. One cannot read the full curriculum without paying for it. The "Curriculum Overview" describes what inclusive service-learning is, discusses the curriculum's focus on how to make teaching and learning as inclusive as possible using the strengths of all types of learners and describes reasons why inclusive teaching is the most effective way to ensure children are learning at the highest levels of understanding. It is very much an essay advocating for inclusive teaching and learning environments.

Web-Based Articles and Presentation Materials

Lynass, Lori Armstrong, (2005) Service Learning in Special Education.

This is a personal experience piece written by a Special Education teacher. She begins with a summary of the method of service-learning and the purpose or goals of implementing the method. She then goes on to discuss why she, as a Special Education teachers thinks it’s an effective method. She focuses on how it is an effective way to “hook” reluctant learners and how it provides an opportunity for each student to use their own strengths to learn and accomplish a project. And for teachers it gives one multiple ways and tools to teach concepts and skills to students.

McCollough, Matt, Integrating Service Learning into IEPs for Primary School Students.
This is a short article about why and how school staff might include service learning in a student’s IEP.

San Falice, F., Scovill, D., Marquard, K. “Inclusive Service Learning: Accessibility and Diversity”, Presentation Paper, CCNCC 2007.
This paper describes how to create more inclusive service-learning programs for community college students. It outlines 1) the difference between universal design and individual accommodation and how they impact service-learning, 2) ideas for collaborating with community partners, faculty, and students in the design of accessible service-learning opportunities, 3) ideas for how to support faculty, students, community partners and students with disabilities engaged in service-learning and 4) provides preliminary evaluation results from two colleges participation in the American Association of Community College’s “Project Reach”.

Service Learning – Students with Disabilities Give to Others.
This article can be found at The Council for Exceptional Children’s website. It is describes the basics of service-learning and then provides examples of various types of service-learning projects that can be used for different types of students or for different purposes. There is some information provided regarding projects for elementary aged students, students with mild disabilities, students with severe or multiple disabilities and projects related to vocational skills development.

Web Sites

The following websites have helpful information regarding inclusion of people with disabilities in service-learning activities.

Thank you to Felicia Wilczenski, Ed.D., Dean of the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Massachusetts, Boston and Jennifer Siegel, MSW, current graduate student in the School Counseling Master’s Degree program at the University of Massachusetts, Boston for their help researching and compiling these resources.

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©The National Service Inclusion Project (NSIP) is a training and technical assistance provider on disability inclusion. NSIP partners with the Association on University Centers on Disability, National Council on Independent Living, Association on Higher Education and Disability and National Down Syndrome Congress to build connections between disability organizations and all CNCS grantees, including national directs, to increase the participation of people with disabilities in national service.