Friday, February 13, 2009

Part 3: What Constitutes Meaningful Service for Spanish Community Service Learning?

Once again, I am responding to the great information in the latest issue of "The Generator," the National Youth Leadership Council's newsletter.

The "Teacher Tools" section focuses on the reflection stages: What?, So what? and Now what? Specifically, this issue invites us to consider how students can assess community needs in the "What?" stage and "go deeper" with meaningful service in the "Now what?" stage.

They provide very useful suggestions as to how students might begin to assess community needs:
  • Conduct a neighborhood assessment, or “walkabout,” listing observable assets and needs in a defi ned area (the school yard, a single block or multiple-block area).
  • Interview school board members or community council members.
  • Survey classmates and teachers.
  • Invite community agencies to a “service fair” held at the school; students can then hear a variety of agency perspectives.
  • Convene a “Gathering of Elders” to assess persistent needs observed over longer lifespans.
  • Map social assets such as different cultures, ethnicities, and age groups.
  • Review headlines in the local paper.
  • Compare local headlines to national and international headlines in papers of record such as the New York Times or Washington Post to find issues of local and global importance.
  • Explore the feasibility of using Google Earth, GPS, a web solution or other technology-based approaches to discover, address, or communicate needs.

These are all wonderful suggestions, and I understand that the students should have a voice in choosing and designing the service work. However, when our university students only have 15 weeks to get into the community, contribute to the community and successfuly exit the community, I firmly believe that the service projects have to be already set up for them.

As an alternative, I think that these suggestions could be enacted in order for students to understand how the projects that they are working on were chosen, even if they didn't have a role in choosing them themselves.

Finally, the first suggestion is an important one but must be approached carefully. We do not want to set this up as a "field trip" to visit "the other."

We should also consider the opposite: inviting community members to visit our campus to tell us about our needs.

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