News from the Field: Cahokia Students Learn Through Service

Service learning has always been an important part of the 21st CCLC program at Cahokia Unit School District 187. Each year, the fourth, fifth, and sixth graders in the program elect student officers. The afterschool staff then work with students to develop projects that are led by the student officers.  “One our goals of our service learning work is to get students to think outside the box,” says site coordinator Barb Larson. “When you open up students’ minds to thinking differently, they do amazing things.”

Recently, students learned to knit caps for children who had lost their hair as a result of chemotherapy. Karen Tilashalski, a project director at the University of Illinois, which partners with the afterschool program, introduced the idea. Tilashalski showed students how to make the hats and then discussed the possibility of knitting the caps as a service learning project. The students were excited about the project, and they were soon busy making caps. The afterschool staff asked students to make a cap to donate before they made caps for themselves. Some continued to only knit caps for donation, never making one for themselves.

Yarn and a loom for cap making    

Yarn and a loom that students used to make caps for their service learning project


During the project, students had several opportunities to connect to the community. They learned about Brandt, a little boy who was being treated for cancer, and knitted caps especially for him. The students also donated several of the caps to the St. Louis Children’s Hospital, where one of teachers is a lifelong volunteer.

The students were proud of their accomplishments, especially when they were able to see the results of their work so quickly. “Many of the students come from challenging circumstances,” says Larson. “It is always inspiring to see them search inside themselves and do something for others.”

Past projects have included collecting toiletries to assemble kits for homeless people, conducting penny drives and using the funds to buy school uniforms for students in need, and raising donations to hold an Easter egg hunt for younger students. The afterschool team is looking forward to seeing what amazing service learning projects students are involved with in the future.

For more information about setting up a service learning program visit the U.S. Department of Education’s Youth For Youth website.