Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Community Agency Voice and Benefit in Service-Learning

Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Community Agency Voice and Benefit in Service-Learning

Article excerpt

Supervisors from 40 community agencies working with a university-based service-learning program were interviewed regarding the extent of their input in service-learning program planning and implementation (Agency Voice), Interpersonal Relations with service-learning students, Perceived Benefit of the servicelearning program to the agency, and their Perceptions of the University. Issues of diversity in the context of service-learning were considered. Support was found for two hypotheses: First, agency members' indicating more voice in program planning saw more benefits to their agency from taking part in the service-learning program. Secondly, the perception of benefits predicted agency members' positive perceptions of the university as a whole. Representatives of agencies with a longer history of participation in the service- learning program and from agencies involving larger numbers of service-learning students were more positive about some aspects of the relationship.

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Most service-learning research has focused on the student, especially the college student, who performs the service (e.g., Astin & Sax, 1998; Giles & Eyler, 1994; Moely, McFarland, Miron, Mercer, & Ilustre, 2002). In a review of the literature, Stukas, Clary, and Snyder (1999) found specific benefits of service-learning for the student, such as increased self-esteem and developing career goals. Similarly, Eyler and Giles (1999) found positive outcomes related to students' acceptance of people from diverse backgrounds; personal development, such as greater self-knowledge; and interpersonal development, such as increased leadership and communication skills.

Stukas et al. (1999) noted that programs that aim to "assess the recipient of help, in addition to the student helper, appear few and far between" (p. 12). In the past several years, however, there has been increased discussion of the principles and theoretical models for developing service-learning "partnerships" between academic institutions and community agencies. In Building Partnerships for Service-Learning, Barbara Jacoby and Associates (2003) address various aspects of developing such partnerships, including a discussion of Community-Campus Partnerships for Health's principles, which emphasize "the process of partnership--the development of mutual trust, respect, genuine commitment, and continuous feedback--through open and accessible communication" (p. 13). The authors conclude that partnerships start and build upon interpersonal relationships, that they can exist on the micro or macro level, and that they take time to develop and are dynamic. Despite the discourse concerning partnership development, not much empirical work has been conducted to assess the community's perspective. Giles and Eyler (1998), and Schmidt and Robby (2002) stress the need to investigate the value service-learning brings to the community. Research reports sometimes offer only summary impressions of findings and give a limited picture of factors affecting community agency satisfaction, benefits, and relations with the university-based service-learning program. Only a few studies provide information from community members themselves about their roles in, and views of, service-learning. Three studies, in particular, have been informative about the views of community members participating in service-learning programs based at higher education institutions.

Vernon and Ward (1999) studied the nature of relationships between universities and their surrounding communities, surveying 65 community members who were working with service-learning programs at four colleges or universities. Ninety-two percent of those community members expressed a positive view of the college or university in their town and 87% "agreed" or "strongly agreed" that the university or college was perceived positively by other members of the community. Seventy-seven percent of the respondents indicated that service-learning students were "effective" or "very effective" in helping the agency meet its goals. …

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