Education and Lending a Helping Hand

Service Learning has become a huge component for several colleges’ curriculums. Many professors have even added a stipulation that if the service learning projects are not completed the student fails the class – regardless of whether or not the student actually received a passing grade. However, there are some professors who use service learning to engage their students. Take Billie Hara for example. In her article “Service Learning (for students)”, Hara talks about service learning as a tool for retention, for achieving goals, and as a connection to the real world. She uses a pen pal system to connect older and younger students together to discuss academics.

While Hara discussed the pros of service learning Stan Katz discussed the difficulties of creating a service learning project that is beneficial to both the students and the people they are supposedly helping. Katz admitted to having little experience with service learning; however, his claims are definitely valid. When students volunteer for different organizations it is often difficult for the students to get what they need while simultaneously giving the organizations what they need. The ideal situation would have to be students getting what they need solely by giving the organizations what they need. This of course would be very difficult to achieve because both the students and those they are helping would have to help give without losing anything. Read “Does Service Learning Really Help?” for more information.

So what is the difference between Hara’s service learning and the service learning Katz talked about?  Unfortunately this question is hard to answer because professors and students don’t necessarily know exactly what the other party needs. However, The National Service-Learning Clearinghouse gives a great example at what students should be gaining from service learning. The website recommends that education programs with service learning assignments should makes sure the assignments correspond to what the students are learning in the class.

Kiran Bir Sethi created a service learning project that benefitted hundreds if not thousands of people. Sethi’s presentation on this project focused on the “contagious” aspect of service learning. The brilliance and effectiveness of Sethi’s own service learning project lies with its contagiousness. It started out small and then it grew, and then it grew again. What started out as a single elementary class’ project became the projects of hundreds of students. The end results affected several communities in India, including one that now blocks off streets on certain days in order to put of play areas for children.

With all of these wonderful ideas for service learning floating around there is bound to be some recognition for the educators who are the creators. Ryan Brown reports in his article – Health Professor, Honored for Civic Work, Developed a Metric for Service Learningon Professor Sherril B. Gelman’s decade’s long promotion of service learning. Her major claim to fame is the development of a class assignment to assess local health programs. This assignment gets her students out into the field and conversing with the community instead of just sitting in a classroom and reading about what goes on in the world.

So what why does service learning relate to higher education? Well, the answer to that can be found in Billie Hara’s article. Service learning has several benefits for students including something that colleges are currently striving to raise: retention. This benefit alone could be the reason so many colleges have adopted service learning programs. Duke University for example has the International Center for Service-Learning in Teacher Education. The website hosts links to Service Learning texts – like The Journal for Research on Service-Learning and Teacher Education, – conference dates, and information on the center. The purpose of this program is for students to become active members in their community and to get to know those they will eventually be working with.

The College of Saint Rose is also involved in a Service Learning Program: Project SLATE. This project is also based in teacher education and is a joint project with several other colleges in the Capital Region. The goal of the program is to help education students learn to use service learning projects in their own future classrooms; which is a great way to ensure that the service learning the college students must do is passed on to future students.

Quite a few wonderful service learning programs have come out of schools (both K-12 and higher education). It is not too late to start using service learning projects in your classroom. If you are short on ideas then just Google it and you will find some amazing examples from other educators.

 

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