How to make the most of your academic Service Learning experience
Approaching Service Learning
Don’t make negative assumptions in advance about the service learning experience—thousands of students at hundreds of institutions of higher learning, including UCs, CSUs, private universities such as Stanford, and community colleges including Gavilan, find service learning to be not only worthwhile and meaningful, but inspiring, important, even life changing. It may be different, but college is about exploring new ideas and experiences, and reflecting upon them.
Take time to look at the websites of potential community partner agencies. The more you know, the better you can choose and carry out your placement responsibilities.
Think about what you would like to learn, gain, and share in your placement. Have this clear in your own head before you go further. Talk to your professor if you need help. Then write your goals as part of your Service Learning Plan so you can discuss them with the agency contact.
Keep materials about your placement together in one binder or folder.
Have on hand what you need when you call to make an appointment to be interviewed: your available times, a blank Learning Plan, a blank Service Learning Agreement, any questions you feel need answering up front, and anything you need to agency to know about you. Some agencies may opt to do a phone interview right then and there; others will want you to meet in person.
For an in-person interview, get directions well ahead of time and arrive earlyish. Dress as you would for a job interview—neatly, with clothing that is appropriate rather than sexy.
Establishing your placement
Be sure you ask everything you will need to know. Make a list of questions to bring with. This usually includes questions about: scheduling, missing a session, responsibilities, who you will work with, who will supervise you, who will train you and how, what safety precautions you need to know about, and whether the Learning Plan goals you have established seem to fit with the work you will be doing.
Ask about anything you don’t understand, or agency practices that seem strange to you.
Find out what is appropriate behavior at this workplace—what are the “rules” about dress, language, phone use, keys, whatever seems like it may be important.
Explain that you will need to be evaluated twice: a few weeks after you start, and at the end of the semester. Ask that you get feedback as you go to help you do good work, as the evaluation will have an impact on your course grade.
If you’re “hired,” set up your work schedule right away for the rest of the semester. Give your contact information to the agency contact, and get full contact information in case you need to miss or arrive late to a work session.
If you’re hired, you must get the Service Learning Plan and Service Learning Agreement filled out and signed by the agency contact and yourself before you begin work. This will protect you, the college, and the agency should any problems arise, so take it seriously! KEEP COPIES BEFORE TURNING THESE IN TO THE PROFESSOR.
Starting your placement
On your first day, be on time. Always call ahead if you can’t make it or can’t be on time. Make arrangements then and there to make up your time. Be reliable.
As much as is possible, observe how others work. Every agency as a “culture.” What can you tell about the culture here, its norms, rules, and traditions? Ask about anything you don’t understand or feel unsure of.
Tell people that you are new and learning if you feel someone is wondering.
Remember that you represent not only yourself--but also Gavilan College, your teacher, your classmates, future classmates, and possibly (if unfairly), your age group, gender group, ethnic group, and other social groups to which you belong-- to agency employees and agency clients. Don’t let this intimidate you--find ways to be yourself and to fit into this agency culture at the same time.
Respect privacy of all clients. Use pseudonyms in writing or talking about agency employees or clients.
Be appropriate. Treat everyone with courtesy and kindness. Be neat and pleasant. Use Mr. and Miss/Mrs. unless invited to do otherwise.
Be flexible. Agencies serving people in crisis often have to respond to intense situations quickly. What may appear chaotic to you could be evidence of a very effective agency. Hang in and ask for help when things are calm.
Never report to your site under the influence of drugs or alcohol; never give or loan money or other valuables to a client; never make promises to clients you can’t keep; don’t give any clients a ride in your vehicle; don’t tolerable sexual comments or behaviors from clients and don’t initiate such comments or behaviors yourself; don’t engage in any kind of business or personal relations with clients; don’t tolerate or participate in comments or behaviors that might be perceived as targeting or discriminating against anyone based on age, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, appearance, or ability.
Making the placement meaningful and relevant
Complete reflection assignments. They are very important to making the experience relate to classroom learning.
Bring questions, concerns, or discussion issues to class or to your professor. Talk about what you’re learning, and how it connects to classroom material, at your placement (if appropriate), with friends, and in the classroom. But respect privacy! Use pseudonyms.