Mutual Benefits: A Service-Learning Project for Authentic PDS Partnerships

          

Christina Kaniu, Worcester State University, cbebas@worcester.edu or christina.kaniu@worcester.edu

Hunter Hoobler, Worcester State University, hhoobler@worcester.edu

Erin Dobson, Tatnuck Magnet School, Worcester Public Schools, dobsone@worc.k12.ma.us

The Professional Development Schools (PDS) partnerships between Worcester State University (WSU) and the Worcester Public School District create a community where reciprocal benefits are tangible. One example is evident within the elementary education introductory course at WSU. Enrolled students work with Tatnuck Magnet School, a PDS, to develop service-learning projects that not only benefit the school community but also provide WSU students with a chance to apply what they learn in a hands-on setting. These mutual benefits of service-learning are well known. An effective service-learning project is “an organized service activity that meets identified community needs and reflects on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility” (Bringle & Hatcher, 1996, p.222).

Tatnuck Magnet School plays a pivotal part in the training of WSU’s elementary education teacher candidates. Through the service-learning project, teacher candidates learn about issues that can arise in an urban school and explore potential solutions through critical thinking and problem solving. After considerable initial research on Tatnuck’s demographics, current initiatives, mission, and other relevant elements of the surrounding community, the class visits the school where Dr. Erin Dobson, its principal, provides an overview of Tatnuck, discusses particular needs and issues, and answers any remaining questions. In small groups, the WSU students use what they learn to develop proposals that outline an existing problem, their project idea or solution, potential outcomes, necessary resources, a timeline, etc. After the proposals are reviewed and approved, the WSU groups use the remainder of the semester to implement their projects at Tatnuck. A variety of projects have been completed. In spring of 2016, a group individually packaged 300 children’s books for Tatnuck students to take home. Each package included a note to parents about the importance of reading at home and promoted Tatnuck’s motto, “The most important 20 minutes of your day … Read with your child!” Other projects have included painting murals to help beautify the over 100-year-old building, redesigning its playground, writing books with first graders, and discussing career and school choices with sixth grade students.

The benefits of this project are truly mutual. As Dr. Erin Dobson suggests, “Tatnuck is so fortunate to participate in this service-learning experience with WSU students each semester. The college students sometimes create projects that benefit our urban school students in ways that we might not have otherwise thought about.” WSU teacher candidates see the learning benefits as well. One student said, “I liked going to Tatnuck because it was a real-life experience that could be connected to what we were learning in class.” Another student noted, “The kids were so happy to see us and being able to teach them new things and be a role model was amazing. I also now have first hand experience with the issues that face schools.” The PDS partnership projects have presented extraordinary opportunities for all involved.

References

Bringle, R. G., & Hatcher, J. A. (1996). Implementing service learning in higher education. The Journal of Higher Education, 67(2). Retrieved from https://wmich.edu/sites/default/files/attachments/u5/2013/Implementing%20Service%20Learning%20in%20Higher%20Education.pdf