Friday, February 15, 2008

Spanish Community Service Learning Updates

The last few weeks I have dealt with many of issues concerning Spanish community service learning issues--some exciting, others challenging.

1. Darcy Lear and I co-authored an article that will appear in the Spring 2008 issue of Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning. This one is pure excitement! In the article we assert that the research on community service learning does not problematize language issues, even when describing community service learning work that takes place with non-English language communities or low-English proficiency speakers. Our thesis is that Spanish community service learning allows students to reach the 5 C's in ways that classroom-bound courses cannot. We present a qualitative analysis of one student's 5 C's achievement in our Spanish & Entrepreneurship course. We are so happy to be published in this prestigious journal.

2. Darcy attended and presented at the North Carolina Campus Compact Service-Learning Conference this week. She had a lot to share about what she learned there, and she especially mentioned Tania Mitchell's (Stanford) presentation on diversity in service-learning classes.

3. A colleague of mine is in a working group at her church with Latino families. She mentioned to me the other day that one of the mothers was concerned with the UIUC students who work at the local elementary school with the Spanish-speaking students and their cultural sensitivity. She recounted the story of a student who told the child, "I need to talk to your mom. Tell her to meet me here at X time." The mother dropped everything she had already planned to talk to the student. It turned out the student needed to interview someone for a class project she was working on.

As my colleague recounted the story I felt bad because I certainly don't want my students to cause problems for community members instead of helping them. Then I felt relieved because I realized this student couldn't be from my program because they have no class project and they certainly aren't asked to "interview" any community members. I told my colleague that the student must be from another UIUC program, not mine. My relief, though, then turned to alarm when I realized how easy it is for one poorly conceived community service learning project or one poor student to harm the credibility of every single other community service program. Community members don't necessarily distinguish between "the UIUC Spanish program in the community" and "the UIUC X Department's program in the community." It's just "the university." That is why we need, in my opinion, a stronger centralized program for cross-campus community service learning efforts.

The potential for contributing positively to the local community is huge. But so is the potential for damage.

4. I am hard at work writing for a big Spanish community service learning project. Can't wait to share details soon.


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