Tonight I spoke with Misty on the phone (after her children were in bed), about the upcoming service learning workshop planned for next week, and what our outcomes will be. And it all depends, I believe, on how the participants engage with the multiple layers offered in service learning.
This will be a nuts and bolts workshop to acquaint participants with service learning opportunities based on community partners we've developed through the grant from Learn and Serve.
We'll discuss definitions--and there are hundreds--but the one we'll focus on acknowledges that service learning is a strategy for connecting learning to community action within a framework that allows both the student and the community partner (and the people served by the community partner) to mutually benefit through this interaction.
Misty and I also discussed the Conversation Cafe session we attended this afternoon. Conversation Cafe provides a forum, four times each quarter, for students, faculty and community partners to gather for pizza and to dialogue about community needs and ways to work together.
Misty wonders whether tonight worked for the ten Cascadia students who are enrolled in Sociology of the Family. The students are required to attend at least one session of Cafe and Misty suggests that perhaps the students may not have felt it a safe space to freely express. I don't know if I agree, however, I feel she's perceptive in asking, though perhaps our students found themselves listening because it was of interest, and maybe they held back in order to hear what others had to say. And who knows, maybe the students, (because they are new to participating in service), need more experience with their sites before they can connect what they're doing to the principles and theories. We decide to ask them how the session worked through either an interview or questionnaire.
But I can see that at these sessions it's evident that some of us are more experienced and passionate and it may be intimidating for new attendees to take the risk to explore their questions and divulge what they don't know. I believe it's important to acknowledge that not everyone is coming from the same place or even from the same relationship to the work of activism and social justice that Ron Krable spoke of at the meeting. Ron teaches at University of Washington Bothell and shared that he became a teacher because he already was an activist and wanted another forum to spread the work, and that teaching within the context of service learning deepens the dialogue in the classroom. So, yes, maybe our students are trying to understand where they fit in to this picture of activism work. I mean, it's one thing to find you're in a service learning course that requires eight to ten hours of service in the community and quite another to connect to yourself as an agent for change in the world based on that service. That's a big leap....and I'm not sure students can get there in one quarter. But Conversation Cafe is an important tool to provide us with role models, time to reflect and to listen as we attend with others who are pondering similar questions and trying to leap forward, too.
One student who recently moved to Washington from California mentioned he'd never taken a service learning course before and enjoys his work at Jubilee Reach Community Center due to the additional benefit he finds in working at a site where other Cascadia students also participate. This provides much needed comaraderie in which to discuss the children they work with, build friendships and deepen relationships.