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Service Learning Program


March 13, 2006

My Service Learning experience has been challenging yet rewarding. I mentor an incarcerated young woman at a state juvenile correctional facility and we work together to set goals and make a success plan for when she is released. I’ve learned a lot about the challenges juveniles face as they reenter the community and it is my job to make sure my mentee is informed about the various resources available. My mentee and I have learned so much from each other’s unique backgrounds and experiences. Not only have I affected the life of my mentee, but her parents have been so grateful for my participation in the program. They know that their daughter has a better chance of being successful in the community with a positive role model who can support her in challenging tasks such as enrolling in school, finding a job and attending substance abuse meetings together. – Janelle Elizares, a current Service Learning mentor 

Each year hundreds of Arizona State University students have the chance to apply the knowledge and skills they gain in the classroom to real life experiences through the Service Learning program. The opportunities are diverse and experiences vary. For some students like Janelle, it may involve learning about the juvenile system and meeting weekly with incarcerated young women to mentor them. Other college students can be found working with third graders on multicultural literature and activities to build reading skills. Some students may even choose to work with 7 th and 8 th graders to solve a murder mystery based on DNA evidence – a clever way to teach basic microbiology concepts.

While the experiences differ, what is constant is the benefit realized by both the college students who participate in the Service Learning program and the children they connect with in the community. Most of the students are in the third through eighth grades, but the program helps students from pre-kindergarten through high school in many different academic subject areas. 

Because of the individualized attention children receive during the program, they experience significant academic gains, including improvement in reading, homework completion, and overall grades. In addition to the academic skills, the program also aims for “attitude goals” in which young students are encouraged to see that they too can achieve success in fields such as math and science.

“These students come to trust that they can do math problems and get the right answers. It’s a change in attitude that enables these students to achieve more,” says Nancy Crocker, director of the program. 

Additionally, ASU students serve as positive role models by exposing these children to new possibilities for their future, including involvement in higher education. Children learn about the opportunity for college as they work with their ASU student mentors.

“Seeing the kids’ misconceptions about college being dispelled is very gratifying,” Crocker says. “Some of the questions—and the eagerness with which they’re asked—let me know that these kids are destined to be Sun Devils one day, and I know they may not have even considered college as an option if they had not had the chance to work with our ASU students.” 

Many of these young children will be first generation college students, Crocker says. Recognizing the importance of reaching them at an early age, the program also works to overcome the cultural barriers that could prevent college attendance in the future. For example, some children from migrant families drop out of school (illegally) as early as the fifth grade, Crocker says. This highlights the need to reach students early.

“The third grade is a really good time to decide you’re going to college,” she says. 

Through the Service Learning Program, ASU students receive academic credit for mentoring and tutoring these at-risk children. Service Learning offers a range of opportunities for ASU students to be involved in tutoring and mentoring; currently, service learning offers course credit in sixteen different disciplines.

Many ASU student interns find the Service Learning experience to be an invaluable addition to their college experience. 

“I accomplished so many things…It’s amazing to think how much I have grown in just one semester helping these students,” says Matt Bialy, a former Service Learning Program intern.

ASU students apply their college learning experiences to hone their skills and provide an invaluable social service. At the same time, students learn to recognize the educational barriers faced by their students.

“Many students develop a complex understanding of social justice issues and feel compelled to continue helping our society improve,” Crocker says. 

When asked what makes the Service Learning Program successful in its outreach efforts, Crocker notes that the program actively seeks out feedback from both the community and the ASU students who participate. This feedback is used in the continuous effort to restructure and improve the program and its offerings.

The Service Learning Program began as a partnership between the Salvation Army and the Roosevelt Elementary School District in 1993 and continues to develop and implement new projects that address the growing academic needs of the community.