History of Service-Learning in Maryland


In his book, High School, Former Federal Commissioner of Education Ernest Boyer advocated that all public schools adopt a new Carnegie Unit of 120 hours of mandatory service-learning.


Maryland Superintendent of Schools, David Hornbeck vigorously pushes the State Board of Education to adopt a mandatory service requirement for all public high school students. The board does not adopt it.


The State Board of Education adopts a rule requiring all school systems to offer credit bearing community service opportunities for high school students.


Very little change is made by local education agencies as a result of the 1985 "opportunity mandate."


Through support from foundations, the Maryland Student Service Alliance (MSSA) is created as a public/private partnership with the State Department of Education to enhance service-learning efforts in Maryland.


Through MSSA's teacher training, curricula development, and technical assistance efforts, a strong foundation for service-learning is established in a growing number of schools statewide.


State funding adds full-time technical assistance capacity to MSSA staff.


The Federal Commission on National and Community Service awards $523,546 to the Maryland State Department of Education to advance the service-learning initiatives in the state and designates Maryland as one of 8 leader states.


The State Board of Education adopts the current mandatory service requirement which becomes effective in 1993 and affects the graduating class of 1997 and beyond.


Considerable publicity, some of it hostile, was given to the mandatory requirement, focusing almost exclusively on the 75 hour option. Most local school boards, teachers organizations and student groups initially opposed the requirement.


MSSA conducts a vigorous public education campaign focusing heavily on having involved and engaged students change other students' attitudes toward the requirement.

April 1993

MSSA inducts its first class of 14 Fellows, teachers who run exemplary service-learning programs and are willing and able to share their expertise and enthusiasm with their peers. As of 2017, MSDE has inducted more than 220 Fellows representing all twenty four school systems.

January 1993

An effort by state legislators to overturn the Board of Education requirement is defeated. Similar efforts in later years will likewise fail.

March 1993

All 24 school districts opt to design their own service-learning programs and submit plans to the State Superintendent.

January 1995

MSSA receives a three year grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to fund Youth RISE (Youth Representatives Involved in Service-Learning Education), a statewide leadership program for middle and high school students who want to help promote quality service-learning experiences.

May 1995

MSSA produces Maryland's Best Practices: An Improvement Guide for School-Based Service-Learning in Maryland. It is the product of interviews with 80 teachers around the state who use service-learning as a teaching method. This guide gives teachers concrete ways to improve their service-learning practice. In response to requests from teachers and administrators for replicable models, MSSA searches the state for teachers doing service-learning that meets all seven Best Practices.

April 1996

MSSA produces Shared Learnings: Administrative Strategies for Service-Learning. These strategies are based on the experiences of Maryland educators who operationalize the state policy that all students must participate in service-learning prior to graduation. These ideas serve as a program improvement guide for administration of large-scale service-learning.

March 1997

MSSA launches the "Service Stars" recognition program highlighting high school students from every school system that significantly go beyond the service-learning graduation requirement.

Spring 1997

Youth mini-grants are first awarded to youth-developed and written grant proposals. These mini-grants continue to be awarded after original funding from the Kellogg Foundation ends.

Winter 1997

MSSA is created with information on local, state, and national service-learning programs and issues.

April 1997

MSSA hosts its first annual Combined Service-Learning Leadership Retreat. 130 administrators, teachers, and students attended.

June 1997

42,000 Maryland public school students graduate with their service-learning requirement fulfilled. Only 49 students in the state did not graduate solely because of the service-learning graduation requirement.


Service-Learning Leadership Retreats continue with 200-250 participants gathering to examine specific issues related to the quality of service-learning programs.


More than 99% of Maryland students complete their service-learning requirement prior to graduation.


"Next Steps: A School District's Guide to the Essential Elements of Service-Learning" is published as a self-assessment tool for school districts in Maryland and nationally. The guide is a result of collaboration between MSSA and national experts and is funded through a Corporation for National Service competitive grant. This guide remains one of the most frequently ordered MSSA publications.


"Excellence Awards" are given to school systems that excel in program implementation. Systems are asked to share strategies for institutionalizing service-learning with all other systems across the state.


"Leadership Development Awards" are given to all school systems specifically to develop service-learning leadership capacity among teachers, students, and administrators.

August 2000

MSSA is awarded a competitive "Community, Higher Education, School Partnership" grant from the Corporation for National Service. A partnership is established among schools, colleges, and community agencies in a distressed Baltimore City neighborhood to improve quality of service-learning practice and projects.

September 2000

MSSA starts two new recognition programs to promote high quality service-learning practice. The "Sherry Unger" award, named posthumously for an exemplary service-learning Fellow, prominently features a service-learning project on our website each month and provides a $200 stipend to the school. Each project must detail how it meets "Maryland's Seven Best Practices" for service-learning activities. Also, the "Service-Learning Principal of the Year" award is a competition that awards money to the winning school and several honorable mentions. The Principal of the Year award winner is the featured speaker at a service-learning celebration each year.

October 2000

"Statewide Quality Review" initiative begins with MSSA specialists visiting every school district during the school year to monitor service-learning implementation policies and assess quality of service-learning activities. The State Board requests an annual presentation on the status of this initiative.


"Statewide Quality Review" initiative expands and deepens at the request of the State Board of Education. 2000-2001 Review produces "Key Characteristics of Quality Service-Learning" presentation to State Board. 2001-2002 Review produces specific action steps in the areas of accountability, delivery models, and teacher training. The June 2002 annual State Board presentation articulates comprehensive Service-Learning Guidelines for all school districts.

June 2001

"Rising Service Stars" begins as a middle school equivalent to the "Service Star" recognition program. Exemplary middle school students are selected by school administrators.

August 2001

MSSA expands and improves website to provide users with efficient navigation and pertinent information. New features include Power Point presentations, pre-formatted training materials, PDF files, additional links to national organizations, and additional archived materials.

September 2001

State Department of Education forms new "Youth Development Branch" combining service-learning, character education, 21st Century Community Learning Centers, and student government programs into a single strategic entity. The Branch is part of the Division of Student and School Services.

September 2002

"Statewide Quality Review" initiative expands again to include scoring rubrics for use during structured interviews with each school system. Rubrics are developed with input from school system administrators and are intended to inform strategic improvement plans for local systems.

November 2002

MSSA provides "Training Awards" to systems that create customized quality service-learning training for any combination of teachers, administrators, community agencies, and students. MSSA pledges technical assistance in support of these local training initiatives.

May 2003

Maryland host the first statewide Service-Learning Leadership Recognition Event to celebrate Service Stars, the Serivce-Learning Principal of the Year and Service-Learning Fellows all at the same time.

April 2004

Many Maryland serivce-learning publications are posted as PDF files on the service-learning website so they can be downloaded for free by educators and students.

June 2004

The Maryland Student Service Alliance disolves as a public/private partnership between the Student Community Service Foundation, Inc. and the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE).  The service-learning program is fully integrated MSDE and supported through the Youth Development Branch.  The many contributions of MSSA and its staff through the years are greatly appreciated and helped make Maryland a pioneer in service-learning.

Fall 2004

MSDE began a four-year cycle approach to monitoring and evaluating the quality of service-learning implementation in the local education agencies. In year one of the cycle, systems submit their detailed, written service-learning implementation plans to the MSDE.  A panel of stakeholders (students, teachers, administrators, community based organization representatives, MSDE and other government agency staff, etc.) reviews the documents and provides feedback to the local superintendents on the strengths of the program and potential areas of challenge.  In years 2-4, each system receives a Quality Review on site visit by MSDE staff.  The three Quality Review rubrics are used during the visit, and a report highlighting strengths, challenges, and suggested next steps is sent to the local superintendent.

Fall 2005

Maryland Student Service-Learning Guidelines created and distributed.  This book summarizes Maryland’s service-learning program standards, policies, and procedures.

July 2007

Spinning Interdisciplinary Service-Learning Webs – A Project of the Maryland Service-Learning Fellows Program revised and updated.  The document, designed to be a project idea generator and promote interdisciplinary collaboration around service-learning projects, continues to be a useful and popular tool for educators across the country.

July 2007

A group of teachers with strong service-learning experience created fourteen sample service-learning units which show the connections of a variety of service-learning projects to the Maryland State Curriculum.

July 2009

A group of teachers with strong service-learning and special education experience developed fourteen sample service-learning units adapted for use with special education students which show the connections of a variety of service-learning projects to the Maryland State Curriculum.

June 2010

A group of teachers and administrators convened to align Maryland’s 7 Best Practices for Service-Learning, developed in 1995, with new K-12 Service-Learning Standards for Quality Practice. As the new national standards closely mirrored Maryland’s existing Best Practices, slight modifications to Maryland’s 7 Best Practices quickly brought us into alignment with the new national standards. The fine tuning of Maryland’s 7 Best Practices allows us to draw on the body of research supporting the national standards.

July 2010

MSDE’s service-learning website undergoes a re-organization to provide even more resources and simplify navigation for visitors.  Additionally, the more than 200 service-learning project ideas on the site have been grouped into a more user friendly and accessible configuration.

Fall 2012 to present

MSDE begins offering a two-credit, online, continuing education course called A Quick Course in Quality Service-Learning.