Sunday, September 6, 2009

How to Move Students from Service to Advocacy

by Ann Abbott

My Spanish community service-learning (CSL) students have been engaged in important direct service for five years now. They do the following, and more:
  • Tutor high school ESL students.
  • Serve as teachers' aids in elementary bilingual classrooms.
  • Help lead Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts meetings.
  • Answer phones, do translations, receive clients, fill out forms and problem-solve at social service agencies with Spanish-speaking clients.
  • Translate materials from English to Spanish.
  • This semester they have begun to work on research projects involving community engagement for University of Illinois professors.

But the Summer 2009 issue of the Generator newsletter made me think about how I can move students from direct service (addressing current needs) to advocacy service (addressing root causes). The newsletter gives several examples, including this one: starting a school-based recycling program (direct service) and continuing recycling effort, documenting results, and presenting to city council, spawning city-wide green initiative (advocacy service).

Although I used slightly different terms, in Comunidades I wrote a related activity (p. 120). I presented six "problems" related to housing (e.g., Los niños que no tienen vivienda digna sufren mayores incidencias de infecciones, problemas de salud mental y de comportamiento) and a possible "solultion" to each problem (e.g., Cuando haces una mejora en tu casa, donas los aparatos usados a una organización que los revende a precios bajos a las personas que quieren mejorar sus casas). Students then have to decide if the solution is an example of charity/caridad, service/voluntariado or advocacy/activismo). In this example, the solution is an example of charity/caridad.

However, a very good follow-up activity would be to ask students to do the following:

  1. Decide if their CSL work is charity, service or advocacy.
  2. List ways that they could turn their direct service or charitable activities into advocacy service.

Here's an example:

  1. Current service. My students who work as teachers' aides in a bilingual education classroom do direct service work.
  2. Real world problem for the community. Bilingual education is misunderstood and often maligned by the general public and even by school administrators. In fact, one of the schools where my students work will lose its bilingual education program as it transforms into a magnet school next year with an emphasis on the arts. Likewise, during times of financial hardship (now!), schools cut foreign language education, especially at the primary and middle school levels.
  3. Advocacy service. My students could: gather published research on how much employers value employees with foreign language skills; canvas local businesses to ask how much they value employees with Spanish (or other FL) skills on a scale of 1-5; look at other school units to find out what bilingual and foreign language education they provide; prepare a slide presentation and handout with these statistics alongside the school board's proposed cuts; present at a school board meeting and/or hold a press conference. Furthermore, my students could: ask members of the local latino community who they perceive to be their community leaders; compile that list; contact those leaders and ask if they might consider running for the school board; research the steps to running for school board; assist any community leader who does decide to run with related tasks.

What could your students do as advocacy service to address the root issue of a pressing problem in your community?

Other posts related to the Generator, Summer 2009: Visible versus invisible service; Duration and intensity of service learning

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