Friday, December 21, 2007

Beginning and Sustaining UIUC's Spanish Community Service Learning

The story in the LAS newsletter was great publicity for my program. I appreciate that publicity because it makes more students aware of this opportunity, more advisors aware that they could suggest the course to students, and more alums aware of a unique program they may want to support.

But one of the best parts of publicity is the e-mails that it generates.

Former students wrote to me after reading the piece to comment on the growth of the program. That was an opportunity for me to find out what they are doing now. One thing is for sure, Spanish service learning students go one to accomplish a lot.

Friends and colleagues on campus also wrote to say congratulations.

Anna Maria Escobar wrote a nice e-mail to me. She pointed out something that I think is very important: "both our students and the members of the Latino Champaign community are benefiting in ways that we might not comprehend completely." It's true; we have so much more to learn about the immediate as well as long-term benefits of this type of community-university partnership.

I always mention that Anna Maria began Spanish service learning here through independent studies with groups of students. I also always mention that I wrote the original grant proposal for the course with Amy Swanson. That never gets quoted, but it's important to note. Anna Maria put me in contact with Sherry Alimi and Mary Borgeson from Booker T. Washington Elementary School in Champaign, and that began a wonderful partnership with them.

Sustainability is a huge issue for any service learning program. As long as independent studies don't "count" in faculty evaluations for promotion and tenure, no one can expect a professor to continue that route forever.

But there are some ways to build in sustainability:

*Tie service learning to a course that does "count."

*Share the service learning responsibilities. Faculty members have sabbaticals, leave time, graduate seminars to teach, etc. If it is always the responsibility of one faculty member, it is inevitable that there will be semesters, even years, when it isn't taught.

*Train TAs to teach the course. We cannot overburden our TAs, and I would suggest that a faculty member always oversee the community partnership communication, but TAs can benefit greatly from teaching the course. It also looks great on their CV when they apply for jobs.

*Write teaching materials that others can use. Throughout the semesters I taught and supervised SPAN 232, I created complete lesson plans for every single class. I put those together with the help of Daren Prather at TIS, and now I feel confident handing this course off to any of our wonderful TAs. TAs are not overburdened because they already have their classes prepared. But if they want to create their own lessons, they are free to do so. This is perhaps the biggest step in sustainability--well-written curricular materials. I'll be writing much more about this in future posts; it is my passion.

*Write grant proposals. My program began and grew with internal grants from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Public Engagement (at the time, Steve Schomberg) and the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership. Now it's time to explore external grants.

So, thanks for the note, Anna Maria, and thanks for laying the groundwork for UIUC's Spanish community service learning.



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