Reduce Prejudice and Build Community Connections Through Service-Learning
by Mabel Schumacher, Ph.D., retired WSPRA Executive Director, Fort Atkinson
Have you heard the TV ad that touts, ?You don’t need a separate painkiller for backache, headache, and joint pain?just take Brand X?? It seems effective since it provides people with a remedy that addresses several needs. As educators, we look for solutions that address a number of issues because we know that the educational process is complex and interrelated. Often when we take one positive step, it fosters benefits in other areas. If we look carefully at Service-Learning, we find that this program provides many benefits?both direct and tangential.
Student Achievement. Service-Learning experiences are positive, meaningful, and real. They involve students in complex issues and promote deeper learning. Students apply the knowledge and skills they have learned in the classroom in very practical ways. They take control of their own learning, and most importantly have a structured time to reflect about the service they provided and what they have learned.
Character Education. Service-Learning projects help teachers to address those elusive character traits in a meaningful way. Caring, values, self-esteem, and social responsibility result naturally from meaningful interaction with others. Students also gain experience with leadership and teamwork; they see the benefit of taking the initiative to solve problems.
Community Benefits. Real needs in the community are addressed through Service-Learning. The community derives actual benefits from student involvement while gaining a better understanding of the students, their learning, and the district.
Communication. Service-Learning projects provide a strong foundation for increased two-way communication between the district and the community.
But there is more?.
In addition to all of the above benefits, Service-Learning projects can help teachers reduce prejudice, identify stereotypes, and help students increase their awareness of diversity. According to Jennifer Holladay, Interim Director of Teaching Tolerance, there are four things that teachers can do ?to help ensure an anti-bias outcome.?
Include student reflection ?a critical element. Throughout the service-learning project, students must be provided with opportunities for self reflection. They need to think about their own learning, possible stereotypes of the population with whom they are working, and the concerns that are at the heart of the project-for example, hunger, homelessness, or ecology.
Promote student collaboration with the community. According to Holladay, teachers must ?create opportunities for students to collaborate with and learn from the population being served.? In addition, there should be opportunities to ?work side by side? to accomplish common goals and to learn from one another.
Work with students to identify real community needs. Conversations with community representatives will help students to identify real needs that can be addressed. As a result, students will be dealing with significant issues rather than surface ?quick fixes.?
Provide students the opportunity to study issues that contribute to ?need.? As students deal with various needs in the community, they also have the opportunity to delve into underlying issues. In this way, they can develop a sense of advocacy that can contribute to the community.
To read Jennifer Holladay’s entire article click here. You will also find there The Multicultural Service-Learning Planner to help teachers assess their service-learning projects to ?ensure anti-bias aims.? For more information about Service-Learning, contact Therese Dary, service learning consultant at the Department of Public Instruction, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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