Service-Learning Frequently Asked Questions


Service-learning is an instructional strategy that combines meaningful service to the community with curriculum-based learning. It is a form of civic education that provides students with opportunities to explore and reflect on what it means to be an active, engaged citizen. Service-learning projects should always include:

  • academic preparation
  • direct, indirect, or advocacy service activities
  • structured reflection

When engaging in service-learning, students apply the knowledge and skills they learn in the classroom to have a positive impact on issues they identified in their communities. To qualify for Maryland’s 75 hour graduation requirement, service-learning experiences must meet each of Maryland's Seven Best Practices of Service-Learning.


Volunteering is good-will demonstrated by offering time and energy to address a need. Volunteerism differs from service-learning, because a volunteer activity usually is not a structured learning experience and typically does not require any academic preparation nor ongoing reflection. Unlike service-learning, volunteers often do not link their service to academic studies nor receive academic credit for their efforts.

Community Service:

Community service is a broad term that can encompass court-ordered, stipended, or volunteer service. Service-learning is a specific type of service that involves the formation of a mutually-beneficial community partnership while addressing curricular objectives.

Work Study Internship:

Student internships are designed to give students the opportunity to learn and build their skills in a particular field or profession, and they may or may not address community needs. An internship at a non-profit organization could be considered a service-learning experience if its purpose is to improve the health or welfare of the community while linking to academic studies, in accordance with Maryland's Seven Best Practices of Service-Learning.

All Maryland service-learning experiences should meet Maryland's Seven Best Practices of Service-Learning. Activities that are eligible for service-learning credit are at the discretion of public agencies. In addition to the clarification provided below, the service-learning coordinator of each public agency can provide further guidance and answer specific service-learning experience questions. 

All service-learning experiences listed here, even if completed in conjunction with a faith-based agency or institution, may be counted toward the Maryland service-learning requirement.

Service-learning experiences whose purposes are to:
  • directly address human needs in areas such as health, education, environment, or public safety.
  • collect food, clothing, or other items necessary to benefit others and meet human needs.
  • extend the benefit of the service activity to individuals or families in need, other than the student’s own family, if the activities should serve the greater good and not one particular person or group.
  • serve the school community in a way that meets greater needs in the areas of health, education, environment, or public safety as identified within the school community. 
  • increase voter registration and participation or implement voter education activities, as long as they remain non-partisan. 

Any service-learning activity related to these business relationships do not qualify as hours earned for the service-learning graduation requirement.
  • activity with the chief purpose of increasing the amount of revenue for a private, for-profit business or to generate new revenue for that business.
  • replacing a paid staff worker of the participating agency or institution with a student earning service-learning credit.
  • compensating  a student with money, goods, or services.

Any service-learning activity related to these religious practices do not qualify as hours earned for the service-learning graduation requirement.
  • promoting or converting others to a particular religious or spiritual view and/or which denigrates the religious or spiritual views of others.
  • helping prepare and/or participate in the performance of a religious service or religious education activity. 

For specific questions about whether a particular experience qualifies as service-learning in Maryland, reach out to your public agency service-learning coordinator

Decisions regarding activities that may be approved and counted toward the hours needed to meet the service-learning graduation requirement are made by the public agency. Projects are evaluated by the service-learning coordinators to ensure they meet all of Maryland’s Seven Best Practices of Service-Learning.

Yes! Each public agency has guidelines about steps to follow to complete service-learning projects independently, including what is needed for project approval and reflection. 

Each public agency in Maryland has a service-learning coordinator who can assist you. There is an implementation plan created by each school system that outlines exactly how students will meet the service-learning graduation requirement in that system, depending on the grade level at which the student enters. 

The service-learning hours that you accrue are documented on Maryland report cards and transcripts. The hours that you previously earned will remain, and you will continue earning service-learning hours in your current county, following their plan.

No. In accordance with COMAR 13.A.03.02.05, to receive a Maryland High School Diploma, every public school student in Maryland must complete at least 75 hours of service-learning. 
If a student will receive a Maryland High School Certificate of Completion, the IEP team may determine that the service-learning graduation requirement is not feasible due to the student's disability. In this unique situation, the exemption must be explained on the student's IEP.

This memorandum about special education services and student service-learning provides additional information. 

Each public agency in Maryland designs a service-learning program that best meets the needs of its students and local community. The designated service-learning coordinator in each system oversees the program and can best explain the process for approval of a service site or service project.  There is also a Service-Learning Implementation Plan created by every school system which outlines exactly how service sites and service projects are approved. 

Please reach out to the service-learning coordinator of the public agency with which you would like to partner. 

In High School: A Report on Secondary Education in America, published in 1983, former Federal Commissioner of Education Ernest Boyer advocated for all public schools to adopt a new Carnegie Unit of 120 hours of mandatory service-learning. David Hornbeck, the Maryland State Superintendent of Schools at that time, strongly encouraged the Maryland State Board of Education to adopt a mandatory service requirement for all public high school students. The Board did not, but in 1985, a rule requiring all school systems to offer credit-bearing community service opportunities for high school students was administered.

To enhance service-learning efforts in Maryland, the Maryland Student Service Alliance (MSSA) was created in 1988 in partnership with the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE). In 1992, MSDE received a substantial award from the Federal Commission on National and Community Service to advance service–learning initiatives.

Maryland became the first state in the nation to require high school students to engage in service–learning experiences as a requirement for graduation in 1993. The State Board of Education adopted the current mandatory service requirement, COMAR 13A.03.02.05, which impacted the graduating class of 1997 and beyond. Many local school boards, teachers, organizations, and student groups initially opposed the requirement. Efforts made by state legislators to overturn the Board of Education requirement were not effective.

MSSA conducted a compelling public education campaign about service–learning, focusing on encouraging those students who were willingly engaging in service-learning to share the benefits with their peers. In 1993, MSSA inducted its first class of 14 Fellows, consisting of teachers who ran exemplary service–learning programs and were willing and able to share their expertise and enthusiasm with their peers. By 2017, MSDE inducted more than 220 Fellows representing all twenty–four local education agencies in Maryland.

In 1995 and 1996 MSSA produced Maryland's Best Practices: An Improvement Guide for School-Based Service-Learning in Maryland and Shared Learnings: Administrative Strategies for Service-Learning. The publications presented service–learning teaching methods based on the experiences of Maryland educators and outlined Maryland’s Seven Best Practices of Service–Learning.

MSSA dissolved as a public / private partnership between the Student Community Service Foundation, Inc. and MSDE in 2004.  The service-learning program has since been fully integrated and supported through the Youth Development Branch at MSDE. The many contributions of MSSA are greatly appreciated as they helped make Maryland a pioneer in service-learning. To date, over 99% of Maryland students complete their 75 hour service–learning requirement prior to graduation.


Lauren McKinley, M.Ed.
Service-Learning Specialist, Youth Development Branch
Office: (410) 767-0357

Reginald Burke, M.S.
Director, Youth Development Branch
Office: (410) 767-0313