Schools eager to expand MSU Service-Learning Program

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The Center for Service Learning and Civic Engagement displays their program on a bulletin board outside their office in the Student Services Building at MSU.

The Center for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement displays their program on a bulletin board outside their office in the Student Services Building at MSU.

By Savannah Swix
Entirely East Lansing

East Lansing Public Schools plan to advance their partnership with Michigan State University’s Center for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement and its program Academic Service-Learning.

“I really want to solidify it and make it something that is just how we do business here and at MSU,” said Tammy Baumann, director of educational services at East Lansing Public Schools.

Academic Service-Learning offers opportunities for Michigan State students to volunteer in their community while gaining first-hand experience in their prospective fields.

“Academic Service-Learning is where you’re doing things in the community…paired with a course,” said Christie Schichtel, the academic specialist for the Center for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement. “What you’re learning in the course relates to your experiences in the community.”

Education students are required to participate in the program. However, various courses in Human Development and Family Studies and Integrative Studies in Social Science also offer these opportunities, but not all are required.

The program assigns volunteers to classrooms where they assist teachers with educational needs. This includes tutoring one-on-one or in small groups, reading to children, leading activities and more.

“Many of our teachers have…little backpacks that have individual students’ interventions in them and so a volunteer can come in and check in the backpack and see what that child needs help with and then they can work on whatever is in their backpack,” said Baumann. “It’s very individual and very much customized to the student. That’s the whole goal of the partnership: to individualize.”

The program is in effect in Glencairn and Marble Elementary Schools, MacDonald Middle School as well as East Lansing High School.

Claire Barna, a human biology junior at MSU, volunteers at MacDonald with the program. Her Social Differentiation and Inequality class influenced her involvement.

“I like school districts and helping kids out,” said Barna. “It’s been great to connect with the students and meet them where they’re at, especially when we do homework help and just learn about them and their family, interests and hobbies.”

The Academic Service-Learning program is designed to ultimately benefit both the volunteer and the younger student.

“In general, (the volunteers are) likely exposed to a diverse group of young people, often in settings that are different from their own education backgrounds,” said Schichtel. “They gain skills in communication (by) interacting with young people, but also teachers, different generations.”

Baumann would like to see the program become an internal project at East Lansing Public Schools.

“We’re trying to write it into the coursework at MSU. We’re looking for the fall to try out the course being held one day a week in our district, right in our buildings,” said Baumann.

“We’re trying to make that a little bit smoother of a process versus someone comes in and says ‘I have an hour every Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.’. Right now, that’s the way it is, so I have to find a match for that and it’s really a challenge to do that versus if we write it into the course and we have distinct partnerships with MSU that allow us to do that. Then I can match the need instantly.”

Schichtel and Marc Hunsaker, the program manager at the Center for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement, agreed that this step could work for the program, but it’s up to MSU and course instructors.

“The faculty have the autonomy to decide how they want to structure their classes,” said Hunsaker. “If they wanted to do some kind of on-site, regular thing, that would be up to the faculty member.”

The partnership is proving to be successful. The question on the table in 2015 seems to be asking how can they improve.

“It’s kind of the beginning of the work. We’re trying to work our way through this. What can this look like? What potential does this have? What service can MSU provide to us and what service can we provide to MSU?” said Baumann. “A mutual relationship is what we are trying to develop right now. That’s our goal.”

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