Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Service Learning: Creating Visibility and Advocacy for Health Education

Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Service Learning: Creating Visibility and Advocacy for Health Education

Article excerpt


This paper reviews how service learning pedagogy is being used by one program to 1) increase the visibility of and advocacy for school health education and the coordinated school health program (CSHP) and 2) meet the needs of students in its master's level professional preparation programs. Three benefits to employing service learning are emerging: practice, relevance, and internalization of health education competencies; student and school district "buy in" of CSHP; and the building of an infrastructure for cooperation and collaboration. Overcoming challenges and barriers to using service learning is also discussed.


The increased focus on "core" academic subjects that came with No Child Left Behind creates situations where school health education often gets lost in the challenge school administrators and school boards have in planning to meet recent and emerging education mandates. There is a need for renewed efforts to increase visibility and advocacy for strong school health education programs and continued implementation of the coordinated school health program (CSHP). In 1998 Kezar wrote that "In the broadest sense, service-learning is a form of active, experiential learning that utilizes service in order to ground the learning process." (1(p27)) This paper reviews how one program is using service learning pedagogy to train school health educators and to increase the visibility of and advocacy for school health education and the CSHP in central New York.


SUNY Cortland provides master's degree programs for those holding current teaching certificates in health education, those holding teaching certificates in areas other than health, and those not holding a teaching certificate but desiring one in health. Historically, the majority of master's students at SUNY Cortland have been seeking health as a second area of teacher certification. The varieties of student backgrounds and a need to move toward authentic assessment strategies provided a challenge when recent updates to the program were considered. Moreover, the increased testing in "core" subject areas, new New York State mandates for student teaching at the elementary level in health, and inconsistent or incomplete implementation of the eight component CSHP model across districts in central New York created challenges in working with the schools. Service learning was infused into three required courses: School Health Program; Assessment and Evaluation in Health Education and Health Promotion; and Graduate Teaching Methods in order to increase the visibility of, and advocate for, the CSHP both in the school districts of central New York and in our student population, while providing students authentic experiences for internalizing the responsibilities and competencies of health educators.


Although definitions of service learning may differ slightly, the hallmarks of service learning are applied "real" projects or work that provide a beneficial service to organizations and/or individuals outside of class, and reinforce course-related skills and content. (2,3,4,5) In our case, the "service" is provided to schools and/or health-related agencies, such as the local county health department and the YWCA.

Review of service learning literature (1-10) from a health education context strongly suggested that the infusion of service learning pedagogy would foster student development as professional health educators and position the department to advocate for health education. A study by Litke (1) on the outcomes of service learning found that both higher and lower performing students clearly believed that the course had an impact on both personal growth and career development, including an increased passion and commitment for their profession and enhanced academic content understanding. Also significant was students' abilities to apply the knowledge and skills they learned from one setting to another. …

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