Service-learning is quite the buzzword in higher education, but it’s a practice that students and faculty in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences have been engaging in for many years. The practice aims to enhance academic learning by challenging students to apply disciplinary knowledge within the context of real-world situations.
“Service-learning aids in critical thinking, complex problem solving, appreciation for diversity, connection of theory to practice, ability to work on a team, and a more nuanced understanding of course content,” said Kelly Ellenburg, campus service-learning coordinator.
Currently, the university is working on a plan to give future courses with a service-learning component an “S” designation. This will entail adding an “S” to the course numbers so students can easily spot them in the course catalog, and they’ll appear similarly on transcripts so employers can take note.
Nine faculty members from different colleges, including CEHHS, piloted the designation plan in spring 2014. CEHHS is leading the way in this charge with many opportunities that give students the chance to learn while they serve—here’s a look at a few of them.
In this introductory education course, students are placed in area schools where they work with classroom teachers to identify student needs, design interventions, and carry them out.
Service-learning is about learning while providing service to community partners. Infusing this way of teaching and learning into an introductory education course creates the perfect formula for future teachers who will educate our youth.
“By increasing students’ competence and confidence in designing, implementing, and assessing their service-learning projects, we hope they will have a better understanding of the challenges they will face as future teachers,” says Dulcie Peccolo, CEHHS director of student services and one of the instructors of this course.
Four years ago, Professor Bob Kronick began the University-Assisted Community School program at Pond Gap Elementary School. The program seeks to make schools a hub of resources for communities, providing some basic services for students and families as well as enrichment activities.
Since that time, five more schools and 150 community partners have been added to the program. Students serve in the schools all year long, including after school, summers, and weekends. For example, families can come in to have dinner with their children, use the washer and dryer available, and then stay for adult class options like English as a second language, GED preparation, and cooking.
Madeline Brown (’12) says working with the full-service schools was an invaluable experience for her because of the hands-on work, readings, discussion, and research involved. “It was a wonderful experience as my peers and I created programs for kids at the school and served as role models for them,” says Brown. “As a result, I received a UT research grant in 2010 and created a documentary at Pond Gap (tiny.utk.edu/UtCqd). I studied how policies, culture, and history impact a specific community.”
Kronick, a professor in Educational Psychology and Counseling, recently received $4,000 for the program as part of the college’s Dean’s Board of Advisors Award in Outreach and Engagement for his work with full-service schools.
The FUTURE program helps young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including autism, make a successful transition from high school to adult life by providing them with career counseling and developing their academic, vocational, and decision-making skills.
The program relies heavily on undergraduates, so faculty wanted to create a way to increase their engagement and offer them a powerful learning experience as part of the time they spend with FUTURE students. This led to the creation of COUN 404:
FUTURE Service-Learning. In this course, UT undergraduates design, implement, and assess a meaningful service-learning project while developing an understanding of students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The ultimate goal is to deepen learning and fully engage student volunteers while simultaneously helping the FUTURE program and its students.
ConnectED Living and Learning Community
ConnectED is a new living and learning community designed for first-year students pursuing licensure programs. Eighteen students are taking part in the 2014–2015 community. These freshmen will live on the same floor of Morrill Hall with others who share their career interests. ConnectED students take select courses together as members of this learning cohort.
Throughout the academic year, students will participate in programming related to current issues and trends in education. ConnectED students also will plan and engage in service-learning opportunities during their freshman year. This will provide them with meaningful opportunities to engage in activities designed to enhance learning for youth in public school settings.
“Service-learning is at the heart of the ConnectED Living and Learning Community,” says Crystal Baldwin, CEHHS coordinator for recruitment and retention and the ConnectED
Living and Learning community. “Providing students with meaningful service-learning opportunities will enhance their skills as future teachers.
Service-Learning Honors Program
The college provides a unique opportunity for its best and brightest students to use classroom learning in solving real-world problems. Through the college’s honors program in service-learning, students have an opportunity to apply knowledge and skills specific to their academic majors to their work with individuals and groups in the community.
Student Sinead Doherty put learning into action by studying the effects of parental incarceration on children through a four-day-long camp that she runs each summer, tuition free, for these children. Through strategic planning and fundraising, Doherty was able to triple the number of campers served. She also conducted a study at the camp to learn what other summer programming is available to campers and how they deal with daily stress.
“My work in the Service-Learning Honors program has taught me a lot about research, and I feel confident that it has prepared me for my future work in graduate school and in the community.”