Service Learning programs bring communities together

Angela Morset

Learning has gone beyond the classroom. Living in the Service Learning Community is an interactive alternative to typical sophomore residence. This year’s SLC housed approximately 40 students in Alumni Hall, who all partook in a common classroom component, a “Fourth Hour,” and a weekly tutoring session. The goal of the service learning students living in the same dormitory is to build a sense of community and relationship among the students, in order to enrich their classroom and service experience.

Students were required to take one of two service learning classes offered each semester: either Ethical Traditions and Contemporary Life taught by Dr. Doorley or Dr. Nance’s Communication: Critical Pedagogy in the fall; followed by Ethics, Justice and the Family taught by Dr. Weaver or Dr. Doorley’s ethics class in the spring. According to Thomas Ryan, a sophomore in the program, “the two required courses are excellent.”

Each class was coupled with a service component, and a mandatory Fourth Hour, designed for reflection and discussion on the tutoring, for an additional credit. Each fourth hour was facilitated by a junior and senior pair of coordinators of the program. “The fourth hour is a place where we can come together and synthesize and piece together everything in class, tutoring, and our lives in order to come to a real understanding of service in our lives,” claims Monica Smith, a senior coordinator for the SLC.

Service Learning students tutored in Philadelphia at Cooke Middle School, a predominantly African American school, or at Central East Middle school, with a majority of Hispanic students. Midway through last semester, Cooke’s after school program transformed from homework tutoring, to exam preparation for the state mandated tests the students will be taking this spring. This caused a shift in the type of tutoring that took place, nonetheless, SLC students continued to serve the children after school. Tutoring at Central East was of a different nature. Villanova students helped students in an “English as a Second Language” program with their homework, helped them read, write and practice English. “Tutoring the students in Philadelphia has been a difficult but rewarding experience. It has really taught me a lot about service,” says Steve Cronin, a sophomore service learning student who tutors at Cooke.

Service Learning student interaction with the middle school students went beyond weekly tutoring. The Cook Middle School students visited Villanova for an educational field trip and Halloween party. Dr. Nance’s communication class sponsored Rhodes Day on December 6, when students from Rhodes Middle School of Philadelphia came to Villanova to receive a taste of college and higher education. And most recently, on February 14, Central East Middle School students traveled to Villanova to experience an anatomy and physiology lab and to listen to education department’s Dr. Edward Fierros’ inspirational speech.

Next year, students will begin service learning by choosing between either Dr. Doorley or Dr. Weaver’s classes for the fall, and then enroll in the other class in the spring. The Fourth Hour section will again be lead by 12 junior and senior facilitators, all of whom will play an active roll in running the SLC and smoothing out any problems that arose this year. The classes will be complemented by tutoring at Cooke Middle School, and possibly Central East depending on the number of students in The Community. Students will also be responsible for planning and executing other activities that will enrich their Service Learning experience.

“We [the student coordinators] look forward to improving the already thriving sophomore learning community: allowing enthusiastic participants to live together while learning about important social justice issues, giving back to their community through service, and having a memorable sophomore experience,” reports Katharine Hayes, the head coordinator and next year’s R.A. for Alumni Hall.

The 2003-2004 coordinators have already been focusing on “fine tuning” the program in order for it to run even smoother than past years. Ami Badami, current R.A. for Service Learning, observes that the SLC is constantly metamorphosizing and has positively evolved a tremendous amount since its beginnings 3 years ago.

Many of the SLC students were pleased with their experience. “Service Learning is a great learning experience, and is definitely a worthwhile commitment if you are interested in service and community,” suggests Christine Wisniewski, a sophomore in the program. And on another note, Ian Purcell is glad he chose the Service Learning Community for his sophomore year “because not only did I make great friendships with the students I tutored, but also with the people I lived with and did service with.”

There will be a meeting this Friday at 12:30 in the Connelly Cinema for all freshmen interested in next year’s Service Learning Community.