Service Learning

Urban School is committed to extending education beyond the walls of the school. Urban's pioneering four-year community service learning program encompasses multicultural education, civic engagement and community service. Through classroom discussion, community projects and self-reflection, students become responsible, resourceful citizens with a sense of personal, social and political awareness. Freshmen prepare for engagement in the local community through an exploration of race, ethnicity, culture, immigration and class and the impact these factors have on one's identity and experiences. Sophomores extend this understanding outward by looking at the needs of the local community and engaging in group service projects. Juniors and seniors deepen their understanding of citizenship by engaging in independent community service projects. Community service learning helps Urban students become responsible, resourceful citizens, often achieving a level of social and political awareness that is rare among teenagers.

Required Service Courses by Grade


Freshman Service

Freshman Service Learning: Identity and Ethnic Studies is a six-week Freshman course designed for students to explore their identity and culture, as well as examine historical factors that shape social constructions such as race, ethnicity, nationality and class. This is an introductory course to the four-year Service Learning Program at Urban. The course will provide students with foundational tools, language and concepts for thoughtful and engaged community and global citizenship, which will be explored further during their 10th-12th grade Service Learning courses. Students are expected to understand how factors such as race, ethnicity, culture and immigration help shape one’s identity and experiences. They are expected to further develop their sense of self-awareness, personal responsibility and purpose through the completion of an online journal, daily homework assignments, unit projects and a culminating final project.

Sophomore Service

Sophomore Service Learning: Identity and Community Partnerships is a six-week course that prepares Sophomores to become responsible and resourceful citizens who partner with non-profit agencies and organizations working to serve a range of local needs and issues. The course introduces students to frameworks for effective citizenship, community engagement, and professionalism. Students partner with organizations such as the Chinese Immersion School at De Avila Elementary, Reading Partners, Playworks, Institute on Aging and Mercy Housing. There are three key course goals:
1) Introduce students to working with a community partner
2) Prepare students for independent 11th grade service learning internships
3) Review and preview how factors such as race, ethnicity, culture and class help shape one’s identities and experiences.

Throughout the six weeks of the course, students are expected to participate during in-class activities and discussions, as well as work in small groups to partner with a local agency or organization. They are also expected to identify a potential 11th grade independent service learning internship by creating a final proposal about an organization whose mission aligns with their individual passions, skills and values. Students are assessed on the quality and sincerity of their participation, written reflections, project proposals and presentations.

Junior Service

Junior Service Learning Independent Internship and Seminar: Identity at Urban and Beyond is a 12-week course where students pursue independent service learning internships in the larger community once a week and engage in a twice-weekly seminar to arrive at new understandings of identity, social constructs and the influences they have on their experiences. Through weekly journals, in-class activities, and group discussions, students identify and challenge their initial assumptions and explore their identities in relation to society at large. Additionally, students explore mediums for positive community engagement through the inclusion of multiple perspectives. Students are evaluated on the quality and commitment of their endeavors, written reflections, an annotated bibliography coupled with a class presentation and authentic participation in all parts of the course.

Senior Service

Senior Service Learning: Understanding Systems of Inequity and Resistance is a 12-week course in which students continue to pursue independent service learning internships in the larger community and engage in twice-weekly synthesis seminars to bring together their three previous years of coursework in the department. In these seminars, students will deepen their understanding of the social context of their service internship. The purpose of the course is to serve as a stepping-stone for students to become fully and independently engaged citizens beyond the walls of Urban. In the fourth year of the Service Learning program, students will conduct an active inquiry using principles from Participatory Action Research on a group-elected issue. Students are assessed through their engagement in weekly blog posts on a social media site and participation in class discussions. The final assignment for this class consists of a letter of recommendation from their site supervisor, a final resume and a final group presentation on their topic.

Multidisciplinary Service Courses

Global Migration: Who, Where, Why examines current trends in the movement of people around the world. We will cover three themes—war and violence, poverty and climate change—and how each impacts the movement of people. The goal of this course is to humanize the immigration debate and offer a deeper context of push and pull factors in the movement of people. In case studies and in engaging with local community organizations in the Bay Area working on migration issues, students will achieve a deeper and more nuanced understanding of global migration trends, social issues impacting migration, and the practical efforts of local organizations that work on migration issues. In addition to academic study and research, students will partner with a local organization serving the immigrant community in the Bay Area. This course is multidisciplinary and also meets the requirement for the Senior Service Learning course. The course will start with introductory frameworks around global migration, including international standards for refugees and migrant workers. Students will then investigate three different case studies looking at historical contexts and root causes of migration, experiences of migration, and experiences upon arrival. Students will conduct a final case study research project on a topic examining migration from one of three perspectives: South to South, South to North, or internal migration. (½ Credit) (Juniors and Seniors only)

Voices of Incarceration addresses the problem of “attention violence,” so named by civil rights activist Reverend William Barber II, describing how we turn our eyes away from the experiences of people who need it most. More than 70 million Americans bear the marks of the criminal justice system, and they—and their families—have been victims of that “attention violence.” This elective aims to turn the light of our shared attention upon them: their individual experiences, as well as the systems, beliefs and practices that created our current era of mass incarceration. Many forces converge to give America the highest incarceration rate in the world, from policing, to policy, to the justice system, to the emphasis on “correction” rather than “rehabilitation.” We’ll read the work of scholars and citizens in custody, and of oral historians and politicians. We’ll listen to podcasts and interviews, and we’ll meet with speakers who have been released back into their communities after spending decades under the surveillance of the state. Students will also work with The Beat Within, the Prison University Project and Restore Justice, organizations that are working to change the experience of citizens-in-custody by amplifying their voices, offering higher education and changing policy. (½ credit that can count toward English requirement or toward Service Learning 12 requirement) (Juniors and Seniors only)