Districts in Action

Advancing student success through civic and community engagement.

What is Districts in Action?

Districts in Action

Districts in Action is a multi-year project designed to demonstrate the promise of community-focused service-learning in K-12 education. Service-learning experiences serve as a proven practice for effective student civic learning and engagement, with the ability to also advance district learning goals, including academic success, educational equity, 21st Century skills, and college and workforce readiness.

Community-focused Service-learning is intentional teaching and experiential learning designed to engage students as agents of change in their communities. Students acquire and apply cross-disciplinary, standards-based, academic content and Four C’s college and career readiness skills to address student-identified real-world community issues.

Districts in Action partners with diverse school districts to implement service-learning and assess the civic, academic and developmental impacts on students. The program’s multi-pronged focus on policy, practice and leadership lays the groundwork for the long-term commitment of Districts in Action – that every child in participating districts will have at least one community-focused service-learning experience during every school year, kindergarten through 12th grade.

Districts in Action supports school districts in making sustainable improvements by providing:

  • Face-to-face and online professional development training for administrators, teachers, out-of-school time program providers and community partners.
  • Embedded coaching and resources to ensure service-learning project quality.
  • Supporting opportunities for all students – Pre-K through 12th grade – to participate in inquiry-based, hands-on, engaging experiences designed to develop standards-aligned student academic knowledge.

Community-focused Service-learning

Why Community-focused Service-learning?

Service-learning engages students in leading authentic learning as they identify community issues and take the initiative to assume responsibility by practicing active citizenship. A significant body of research supports Districts in Action, showing that increased student engagement associated with high-quality, community-focused, service-learning activities contributes to improvements in both academic and non-academic measures. Statistically significant benefits of civic learning include:



NCLCE at Education Commission of the States continues to work with the National Youth Leadership Council to develop and implement the Districts in Action: Advancing Student Success through Policy and Practice project in selected school districts across the country. More on the lead organizations in the boxes below.


Education Commission of the States serves as a partner to state policymakers by providing personalized support, unbiased information and opportunities for collaboration. Through our programs and services, policymakers gain the insight and experience needed to create more effective education policy. At Education Commission of the States, we believe in the power of learning from experience. Every day, we provide education leaders with unbiased information and opportunities for collaboration. We do this because we know that informed policymakers create better education policy.

As a center within Education Commission of the States, the National Center for Learning and Engagement (NCLCE) is dedicated to strengthening civic learning as a means of preparing students to become productive and knowledgeable citizens in a democratic society. Although civic engagement is a persistent goal of American public education, many schools are still in need of opportunities for active and authentic civic learning.

The National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC) is a nonprofit organization with the mission to create a more just, sustainable and peaceful world with young people, their schools and their communities through service-learning. For over 30 years, NYLC has provided programs and services to school districts, at the classroom level, and to a variety of out-of-school youth programs, all aimed at developing young leaders by supporting educators and advancing the field of service-learning. Visit their Districts in Action page here.



Thank you to the following sponsors that provide financial support for the Districts in Action project.

Participating School Districts

2016 – 2017 Participating School Districts

Ferndale School District – Ferndale, Wash. – 4,700 students

Henry County Schools – Henry County, Ga. – 40,000 students

Richardson Independent School District – Richardson, Texas – 39,000 students


Districts in Action Highlight

Districts in Action Highlight

Lettuce, tomatoes, cauliflower, peas and radishes to help feed the community are blooming in Ferndale, Wash., as the result of a service-learning project by Windward High School students in the Ferndale School District. The students elected to address food insecurity issues through the renovation of a greenhouse and the development of a school garden. After investigating options for their greenhouse and garden, students connected with community partners to secure supplies and professional expertise.

For service-learning to be successful, it is critical that the service be authentically meaningful to both the students and the community. Through collaboration with the local food bank and community garden, students identified a specific community need for fresh salad vegetables, which became the focus of their contribution. Students plan to expand the garden with cucumbers, peppers and other fresh veggies next year.

“The original goal of this project was to bring our community a little closer together while giving back to the place we live in,” explains a student. “In the end, we accomplished this and much more, expanding our community and not only giving back to our community, but also establishing ties with it.”



Windward High School students work on greenhouse renovations for their community garden.