Best practices for agencies participating in Service Learning with Gavilan College students
Prepared January 2008 by Leah Halper, Gavilan College History Department
- Know what you’re getting into as a community agency partner in service learning. Ask every question and make sure there is a good fit with the faculty person/s who you will work with. You will need to work well together through thick and possibly thin.
- Designate one contact person who is good about returning emails and phone calls to be the point person for students and faculty.
- Find out how the semester will be scheduled. What week will students need to be contacting the agency to be placed? when will they start work? When will they finish up? Be sure you have staff available to do the necessary student communication, intake, interviewing, orientation, and supervision at the times needed. Students will have deadlines to meet, and may select a different agency if their first contact goes unanswered.
- Have specific projects in mind. Some faculty will feel that student-client interaction is all the students need to get the experience desired. Others will want more tangible projects. No one wants busy-work or empty seat time. Be sure you discuss the faculty members’ needs before offering work to a student—if the student does projects that don’t relate to the class, his or her grade might suffer.
- Do a “real” interview to determine whether the student is appropriate for the work. If so, “hire” and orient them. If not, suggest they find another placement. Feedback on what they need to make a better impression might be channeled through the instructor at your discretion.
- Let students know what the expectations are in your agency in terms of background checks, appropriate dress and behavior, language usage, confidentiality, ethics, tardiness, and missing work. Be clear and positive. Handouts given to other volunteers are great, if you have them.
- Talk schedule up front. If the student only has weekend time and your agency closes on weekends, it just won’t work. Many students are very busy, but the placement is part of the expected and required academic work of the class. Be as flexible as you can be, but not more flexible than is reasonable. Students who need to be supervised should not work alone just because they say that their schedule demands it.
- Take the Student Learning Plan seriously. It outlines what students will be held accountable to do, and is also the legal document describing who is responsible for what in case of mishaps. Read it, sign it, take a copy, and return it to the student. Keep it safe.
- Find out from the faculty person how Service Learning relates to what they are teaching. Ask to see related assignments or hand-outs.
- Get materials you need from faculty—minimally this usually would include time-sheets and evaluation forms. Keep these away from students to avoid fraud. They should be completed by you.
- Stay in touch! Faculty will likely ask for an early evaluation and a second evaluation to help them in preparing grades. But don’t hesitate to communicate whenever you need to.
- Remember that faculty are almost as overstretched as employees at non-profits. Some faculty might be overseeing as many as 100 student placements. Cut them slack but ask for what you need.
- Invite faculty to present to your employees or clients, or to share a conference or materials in your field. Go to lunch. Apply for a grant together. Look for other ways to strengthen the connection.
- Thank students who do a good job. For many it will be a new experience and a challenging one, but a very rewarding one.