What is Service Learning?

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Service learning is a transformational and experiential pedagogical tool in which the participants are required to reflect on the impact of their curriculum-related knowledge on their communities. In this way, service-learning (SL) has been variously described as a collaborative exercise between the school or university and community partners, in which curricular knowledge is assessed through authentic local community-based experiences (Roldan, Strage, & David, 2004). This multitiered feature also demands a mutual commitment to reciprocal benefit and respect (Jacoby & Associates, 2003). It suffices to say that service-learning is seen as a formal, curricular exercise, whose success is dependent on the sense of responsibility of the involved student, faculty and community stakeholders.

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Service learning is operationalized differently in the various disciplines that it is applied to. Consequently, there is no uniform or clear definition. Regardless, the fundamental learning objectives are the same across academic fields, namely: experiential learning, connection or involvement with the local community, personal reflection and transformative learning and finally, civic responsibility. Therefore, keywords such as community-based education, community service, social entrepreneurship, civic responsibility and scholarship of engagement have been used to describe SL. Three frameworks comprehensively capture this dynamic and eloquently capture the benefits of service leaning to the practitioner (me), the community organization with whom I will be working with (Hope Community Services) and my university: the 4 Rs, the Butin Conceptual Model and circle of courage.

What Are The Benefits Of Service Learning For You, The Community Organisation With Whom You Will Work And The University?

The 4 Rs are identified by Caspersz, Olaru & Smith (2012) in their study of the unifying links between SL definitions: reality, reflection, reciprocity, responsibility. This framework recognizes that SL participants engage communities in real-world settings (reality), organically deconstructing and critiquing their service experience (reflection or reflective engagement), all the while ensuring that their recipients stand to gain from the experience as well (reciprocity). Throughout this process, the students use their academic knowledge base and professionalism to benefit the community that they have partnered with (responsibility) (Caspersz, Olaru & Smith, 2012).

The Butin Conceptual Model (Carrington, Suzanne, Selva & Gitta, 2010) is a social-cultural framework that is composed of four elements: technical, cultural, political and postmodern/postconstruction. The technical dimension of this framework supposes that service-learning has a component whose outcome is the improved academic performance of the student due to a greater breadth of learning opportunities. The cultural aspect implies that, by engaging in service-learning, the student will acquire a deeper appreciation, understanding and acceptance of diversity and a sense of community belonging. The political perspective suggests that such a student will better identify community hierarchies and values, thereby enabling the student to transform power or political relationships by, for instance, participating in the empowerment of the disenfranchised within the society.

Finally, the postmodern/postconstructuralist component of this perspective involves how an individual creates, sustains, and/or disrupts the boundaries and norms by which we make sense of ourselves and the world (Carrington, Suzanne, Selva & Gitta, 2010). It proposes that individual identity is constructed to reflect personal and community values and that there is no unitary truth.

The Circle of Courage Framework emphasize the attainment of autonomy, belonging and mastery in the hope of developing individual self-worth and resilience. Such an individual is primed to further developing a sense of belonging, empathy and authentic generosity (Coffey & Lavery, 2015).

By and large, these two frameworks form the basis for the design of the majority of service learning plans, providing for a guided cascade of experiences and guided reflection that, when combined, empower the modern-day student with skills to deal with diversity, social equity and globalization. The end result is that the practitioner becomes more than a purveyor of knowledge (knowledge transmission), but can also modify it to make it applicable to his or her reality (knowledge transformation) with the added benefit of creating and sustaining a quality education process.

Section 2: BELONGING

Profile of the Geraldton, Walkaway and Mount Hill Community

The Geraldton, Walkaway and Mount Hill communities are within the jurisdiction of the City of Greater Geraldton, a recently created local government area in the Mid-West of Western Australia. These communities are afflicted by alcohol and drug abuse.

While the 2010 national average for 18-19 year olds that have recently used an illicit drug was 25.1%, the same figure was 39.2% among Western Australian teenagers (Drug and Alcohol Office, 2010). 34.9% of Western Australian residents between the ages of 20-29 reported using a drug in the 12 months before the drug survey, against a national average of 27.5%. 12.6% of children between 12-17 years admitted to illicit drug use in the same time period, the worst score nationally. Furthermore, Western Australia came in behind the Northern Territory in cannabis use, with one in seven admitting recent use. The rate of WA 18-19 year olds that have used the drug is almost double the national average, at 37% and 21.3% respectively (Drug and Alcohol Office, 2010).

Indeed, hospitalization rates and negative long-term health impacts from alcohol abuse are higher in the Mid-West when measured against the Western Australian state average (Alcohol and Drug Office, 2015). 2.85% of Western Australias total attributable burden of disease and injury is as a result of alcohol use and abuse (Hoad, Somerford & Katzenellenbogen, 2010). In an indication of further deterioration and a heightened policing response, up to 3, 756 amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS)-related arrests were made in Western Australia in 2013-14, representing a 30% increase from the previous year (Australian Crime Commission, 2015).

This seeming explosion of alcohol and illicit drug use within the City of Greater Geraldton can only be arrested by the concerted effort of a variety of stakeholders. Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation programs run by community-based organizations play a vital role in this regard. In fact, over 150, 000 Australians seek assistance from such organizations every year (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2013). Hope Community Services, formerly Drug ARM (Awareness, Rehabilitation & Management), is an example of almost 700 such organizations that offer alcohol and drug-related abuse assistance throughout Australia.

Profile of Hope Community Services

Headquartered in Geraldton, Hope Community Services (HCS) runs a 13-week residential Therapeutic Community (TC) rehabilitation program known As Rosella House and proposes to extend its various programs to include the Mount Hill Community Farm. Hope Community Services also provides transitional housing under the Mental Health Commissions Transitional Housing and Support Program (THASP), targeting graduates of drug rehabilitation programs that face the risk of immediate homelessness. Based on referrals from the Department of Corrective Services for teenagers out on supervised bail, the agency provides safe and supervised accommodation and life training under its Geraldton-based Youth Bail Options Program (YBOP).

With a century-long history of involvement in Western Australia through provision of mental health, alcohol and drug-related rehabilitation and awareness and community services, HCS is uniquely positioned to complement the efforts of law enforcement, criminal justice or health care systems. Incidentally, HCS has forged strong grassroots relationships and can effectively and decisively deploy its experience. As a matter of fact, HCS has provided drug rehabilitation services for over a decade without incident.

Mission and Vision Statement and Values of Hope Community Services

Hope Community Services mission, true to its vision of nurturing hope and opportunity, is to provide quality and impactful community services that play a role in the development of an inclusive and functional community.

To achieve the above, Hope draws on the following values: respect for and recognition of human dignity and diversity; recognition and acceptance of communal interdependence and pursuit of a connection with others; participation of all stakeholders in the design and delivery of community intervention programs and other forms of responses; use of sustainable approaches to providing community responses with regard to environmental, economic and social responsibilities; and a commitment to excellence in the delivery of community interventions, program management and public relations.

Securing Placement at Hope Community Services

In order to secure a position at the Hope Community Services programs, particularly the Mount Hill Community Farm, I intend to network with volunteer placement officer, placement supervisors and the farm manager through referral from the universitys internship and placement office.

Strategies to Engage the Community and Achieve My Goals

The key to creating strong teacher-student and teacher-community relationships is developing a sense of belonging, trust and alliance. I intend to unconditionally accept my students for who they are by creating a sense of community, first and foremost, within the classroom. To create rigorous relationships, I believe it is critical that the students and community members understand that their views are relevant, their interests are known and their voices are not ignored.

To achieve this, I intend to employ the following strategies:

Provide for regular and structured opportunities for one-on-one interactions between farm residents, staff members and the community;

Forster a sense of cooperation between farm residents as opposed to competition;

Ensure that the farm residents have ample opportunities to connect to a higher power through spiritual nourishment; and

Empower the students to reconstruct their view of punishment and rewards by assisting in the deconstruction of personal moral choices.

These structured meetings between farm residents and community members could respectfully:

Exploring avenues for partnerships with local businesses so as to avoid detrimental competition between the farms products and those of the locals;

Establish schedules for the local farming and business community to visit the farm, either for the purposes of program auditing or for skills transfer; and

Determine a framework for engaging farm residents in local projects.

Furthermore, I also intend to establish a committee of local community education and health care professions akin to a consumer board, that may from time to time, advice on best-practice and new technologies that can boost farm resident graduation and skill uptake.

Thirdly, I would explore the possibility of locals sharing local cuisines with the farm residents, with the possibility of having a weekly cooking session organized by the local community members.

Time Frame of My Service Learning

A 11-week teaching practicum with a daily 12-hour commitment.

Section 3: MASTERY

Reflection Strategy

Although the modern education system places a significant premium on competence, it is often done at the expense of cooperation. Competence (mastery) therefore, is consumed by a zero-sum game, where for one to demonstrate...

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