Werklund School of Education
Leading Education for a Connected World
Service-Learning: Four questions for Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs, Dianne Gereluk
This year, more than 200 undergraduate students in the Werklund School of Education are participating in service-learning opportunities. These pre-service teachers sign up to connect with a wide range of community and UCalgary campus partners; they work with children and youth, apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to real world situations, build their professional network, and add to their co-curricular records.
Q: Why is it important for undergraduate students to take part in a service-learning experience?
“Service-learning allows students to integrate their understanding of learning and teaching with service in the community through purposeful, meaningful activities that support student growth. For our undergraduate students, it provides real life opportunities to apply what they are learning in their Bachelor of Education program to the various community organizations that are supporting children and youth is a multitude of ways.”
Q: What’s the benefit to the student?
“Service-learning bridges theory that they learn on campus to the actual practice and real lives of children and youth in their community. It further opens up students’ understandings of the various organizations that support and augment the learning that occurs in classrooms. Very simply, the phrase that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is incredibly poignant to that of service-learning. Pre-service teachers can get meaningful opportunities to work alongside the great work that is happening in the communities.
Many of our students commonly note that their service-learning opportunity was a life changing event, which gave them a deeper understanding of the children that they are serving. We find that there is a renewed and deeper commitment and passion toward the teaching profession, and more appreciation about the nuances about the teaching profession.
This important work is acknowledged on the students’ transcripts, which is a good indicator of the student going above and beyond the normal commitments in the Bachelor of Education program.”
Q: What do the hosting institutions get out of it?
“Many of the community organizations rely on volunteers to facilitate their programs. This is a win/win for the hosting institution. They can mentor pre-service teachers regarding the principles and aims of the organization in supporting children. And reciprocally, our pre-service teachers can often bring fresh ideas about ways in which to support children within the context of the particular organization. The sharing of these meaningful learning experiences provides growth of understanding for both the hosting institution and the student.”
Q: And the benefits to the Werklund School of Education?
“One of the central principles that underpins the Werklund School of Education undergraduate program is to foster community engagement. We want Werklund School of Education to be a community hub of ideas and practices at all levels. In this way, we can consult and collaborate with our key community partners and work together to see how we can support learning in formal and informal learning environments.”
I chose to get involved because during my previous degree at St.FX, I participated in two Service-learning programs. They were invaluable experience, I learned so much!
So here at the UofC I was looking for an opportunity to engage with the community, and to gain new skills. I was keen on working with students before my practicum; truth be told, I’ve never formally worked with students, and I needed some experience!
I was placed with WeeReads, and the City of Calgary After-School Program. Throughout both placements I learned about the importance of building strong relationships with your students. I had so much fun reading, playing and doing crafts with the students. I gained insight on finding a balance between having fun, and accomplishing the learning outcomes.
At WeeReads I hang out in my reading buddies’ classroom afterwards, getting to know their classmates, and helping where I can. I’ve learned so much from observing and talking with their teacher. I am incredibly grateful for these experiences.
Prior to getting involved with Service-learning, I had only volunteered with elementary aged students. The Academic Pairing Program provided me with the invaluable opportunity to participate in semi-weekly classroom activities with grade 9 ELA students - which is directly related to my specialization. With the guidance and support of my Partner Teacher, I started engaging with small groups of learners right away, and worked my way up to preparing and delivering whole class lessons and activities under my Partner Teacher’s mentorship. I am grateful for this collaborative, hands-on learning experience that allowed me to apply what we learn in our Undergraduate classes - including the importance of planning, building relationships and developing authentic assessments - within a real classroom environment. I would highly encourage all pre-service teachers to get involved with one of the many Service-learning opportunities to support their professional growth.
Why did you choose to get involved in service-learning?
Being a first-year student, service-learning was a way for me to get more involved with my education degree. There are really great opportunities that genuinely intrigue me and allow to me really tap into my passion of spending time with students as well as trying my hand at a different role other than just a student. It made me feel like I was actually starting my teaching degree, plus I love volunteering on my free time and being able to do so in an environment that I not only enjoyed but also helped me with my future was extremely rewarding!
Where was your placement, and what did you learn?
My placement was with Calgary Reads Wee Read where I worked with four sets of students from kindergarten and grade one. When teachers make teaching look easy, it really isn’t! Working with students and getting to know them and the way they learn on top of catering to that need is so much more difficult than I initially thought, which I learned through this placement. I learned a lot about trying to find new ways of engagement and teaching as well as trying to make learning extremely fun for the students I worked with.
Service-learning is an effective way of giving back to the community, while gaining valuable experience and skills. Our placement was in a program through The Calgary Bridge Foundation for Youth called Transition into Post-Secondary (TIPS). This was an excellent opportunity to help and inspire an adolescent to achieve her dream of attending post-secondary. Our mentee had moved from Liberia in 2014 and was passionate about having a career on social work. As a grade 12 student, she was overwhelmed by this transition and was hesitant about applying as she would be the first in her family to attend university. By taking her through each process and sharing our experiences as post-secondary students, we learned that what could be a simple application process for us, may be overwhelming for others and just a bit of help can make a huge difference in her future. This was truly a rewarding experience!
We decided to get involved in service-learning to broaden our awareness of community based programs supporting today’s diverse youth. Through our service-learning placement, we participated in two programs at The Boys and Girls Club of Calgary. Both programs, Just Breathe and Ready, Set, Go Preschool, built self-efficacy and social competencies within the youth participants. Our experience inspired us to advocate for community support and awareness of youth programs. We are currently raising donations for The Boys and Girls Club of Calgary through our participation in the Scotia Bank half-marathon on May 28th, 2017. You can track our progress through this link. Overall this experience, coupled with our course work in Diversity, motivated us to make a difference in our community.