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Student Stories of Service Learning

Students have worked with an array or organisations with sustainability aims internationally and locally. Read some of their experiences below. 

International Experiences

International Service Learning Placements with Antipodeans Abroad

From 2011, cohorts of James Cook University (JCU ) Education students have undertaken service learning in Cambodia. These four week placements have involved teaching English in schools and working on community development.

Past ED4460 students who have undertaken service learning in Cambodia have blogged about it.

Local Experiences

Visual Arts - Building social sustainability in young people with a disability.

'Education for sustainability develops the knowledge, skills, values and world views necessary for people to act in ways that contribute to more sustainable patterns of living.' (Australian Curriculum). To facilitate this goal of sustainable living, I was able to implement a visual art program with a group of clients from St John's Community Care Limited. The goal behind this program was to provide an avenue where young people with a disability could build on current social skills to interact with one another and other members of our community.

The opportunity to introduce a visual arts project within the young disabled group was challenging and exciting. It provided an opportunity for young people with disabilities to engage in fun, yet challenging experiences to build on their own abilities and social skills. In consultation with the Program Co-ordinators, we were able to implement a visual art program over 4 consecutive Fridays. Each Friday afternoon the clients would participate in varying visual art activities. The activities were set to engage clients in small group interactions, by having up to 8 clients at any one activity. The clients would then spend time on each activity. Activities were designed to be used with the diverse abilities of the clients.

'Sustainable communities meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs (Sustainable Sonoma County, 2010).' To promote the inclusion of the local community, I was able to gather children from the local child care centre to participate in a visual arts day with the clients. Using this situation, both clients and children were learning to interact with one another. The children were able to interact with the clients, and demonstrate how to use the activities, thus providing opportunity to create a sustainable community for the future.

The learning I gained from this placement was both in personal and professional development. Through interacting with the clients and carers, I was able to extend on my own interpersonal skills. I was challenged to develop relationships with the clients, which proved quite difficult with some clients. Many of the clients were quite open and willing to interact and participate in different activities, but others needed more encouragement. I was also able to use the interpersonal relationships the clients had with one another to engage them in the experiences. It was almost like implementing a buddy system with the clients, encouraging them to undertake the same experience as one of their friends.

Professionally, I extended on my own abilities to interact with co-workers, carers of people with a disability, and co-ordinators of the service. I was able to liaise and plan with the co-ordinators of the service to plan a visual arts program for the group. I also gained feedback from the clients about what they wanted to undertake and participate in over the weeks. We then were able to implement their suggestions and further extend on these.

During the experience there were a number of carers who also assisted the clients in their learning and participation. I found that some of the carers were actually doing the work for the clients in wheelchairs, where some of these clients could have been more involved. After liaising with the Co-ordinator of the service, I spoke with the carers and asked that they attempt to place the different mediums and activities in the client’s hands, even if they undertook hand over hand strategy. This was then attempted with the clients. It was getting the clients more involved with their experience.

The young people with disabilities within my service learning placement had varying disabilities from intellectual, physical, non-verbal and wheelchair bound. Through this service learning placement, I have gained an insight into planning for children with disabilities. The individual abilities of clients varied and the level of scaffolding required for each client was different.

(Carly Francis)

Australian Rugby League (ARL) Development - Developing Rugby League Nationwide (ARLD, 2012)

Not Only Developing Rugby League, but Cultural and Community Harmony; One Child at a Time.

Summary of my Experience

To summarize my experience with Australian Rugby League (ARL) Development in one word - "awe" - in the sense that during my service learning placement, I was amazed at and admired the services that this particular organisation does for the various communities that it reaches throughout the nation. My service learning placement with Australian Rugby League (ARL) Development granted me a wonderful opportunity to work within various different communities and participate within their numerous camps, training sessions, clinics, carnivals and community outreach programs. ARL Development aims to provide various, valuable services for a number of communities in order to provide positive, sustainable futures for the children and youth of our society. Throughout my experience with ARLD, I witnessed remarkable things being done to contribute to this sustainable future, as ARLD provided positive, valuable lessons regarding personal health, fitness, nutrition and education; in an attempt to do their part in providing for the future life of our children and youth. Upon concluding 50 hours of service learning placement with ARLD, a relatively brief time, I nevertheless achieved my 3 intended, predetermined learning goals; signifying a successful, worthwhile and educational service learning experience, emphasizing and prioritizing both student learning and community service (Lemieux and Allen, 2007).

A Reflection on my Personal and Professional Development

To be so fortunate as to be part of such a great cause on various occasions throughout my time with ARLD, it has been such a tremendous honour and a greatly rewarding experience, while I have successfully worked towards completing my three intended learning goals. In completing such goals as these and participating in this service learning, I feel I am adequately developing my professionalism and becoming well prepared for my future occupation as a teacher. Being part of these various communities and seeing the messages spread to the students of the schools around this district gets me very excited to become part of a school and community of my own and contribute or provide services in some way myself. The way in which ARLD contributes to schools around Townsville in particular is quite remarkable, as they provide the children and youth in the community with an essential service which is currently generating positive results. From my short time spent with ARLD, I have already greatly improved my communication skills, organisation skills, and my demeanour; all important and crucial aspects to my professionalism.

I feel I have successfully achieved my first learning goal, Developing team building and cooperation skills by means of participation with a range of people from various different cultures, ethnicities and communities, after conversing, interacting and working alongside various diverse people of all ages from a number of different cultures, ethnicities and communities, building strong relationships with them in order to complete tasks and activities. My second learning goal, Providing students of diverse cultures, ethnicities and communities with valuable lessons and wisdom with strong health and education messages in order to further enhance students' perhaps preconceived opinions of education and health, is a goal I feel I also achieved, attributable to the various services in the form of clinics, sessions, camps, programs and carnivals that I assisted in providing for the vast number of students and children of Townsville. These said services (i.e. clinics, sessions, etc.) effectively spread vital messages promoting the importance of health, education and successive employment to groups of children who may have already negative preconceived opinions regarding health and education. My third and final learning goal, which was to, Work towards establishing and developing sustainable communities and societies in regards to the health and wellbeing of the community members; in particular young students, was a goal I was also successful in accomplishing during my service learning. By participating in and providing my own personal services through ARLD that promoted cultural harmony, good behaviour in schools, and healthy lifestyles and wellbeing, in various, diverse communities including the Indigenous community of Palm Island, I ensured that I contributed to the endeavour to establish and develop sustainable communities; "a powerful impact not just on students' personal development, but on the development of society as a whole" (Halbert, 2012).

Personally, I feel this experience has changed my opinion and view on service learning and community programs. Before this service learning placement, my feelings for how beneficial some community-based programs were not as strong or as assuring as they are now. I have seen first-hand just how important community services such as those that ARLD provide are and how crucial they can be in shaping our future and ensuring it is a sustainable one. Definitions that describe sustainable communities as an inter-relation of the economy, society and environment (Nickerson, 2006) are absolutely true, as I have seen with ARLD that a community can be sustainable if money is spent on projects and services that positively and successfully service the community.

(Matthew Bowerman)

Mental Health Matters

My service learning placement was at Supported Options in Lifestyle and Access Services (S0LAS). The organization's commitment to mental health recovery, fostering independence and community engagement lends itself well to The Earth Charter Initiative (2012) principle "Build democratic societies that are just, participatory, sustainable, and peaceful..." ensuring that "... communities at all levels guarantee human rights and fundamental freedoms and provide everyone an opportunity to realize his or her full potential".

My time with the organization allowed me to participate in a variety of programs as well as work with and learn from various members of staff and service users. My duties included developing and preparing healthy meal plans for service users, designing brochures for individual service programs, as well as attending (and contributing to) three separate community functions throughout Townsville's Mental Wealth Week. I also attended various stakeholders meetings and completed Mental Health First Aid training.

The opportunity to work collaboratively with various staff in designing information brochures and organizing various Mental Health Week functions and activities aligns with the QCT Standard 8 "Foster positive and productive relationships with families and the community" and Standard 9 "Contribute effectively to professional teams" (QCT, 2006, p.15). Both the information brochures and Mental Health Week activities were designed to create greater community awareness and support for mental health. My participation in these activities demonstrates the QCT Standard 6 "Support personal development and participation in society" (QCT, 2006, p. 13).

Certainly, working with SOLAS staff and service users, and completing specialist first aid training has allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by people who experience mental health conditions. Although I have only 'scratched the surface' in this field, I feel that I have built a solid foundation to further develop strategies and skills to work with and support individuals who experience mental health. As well as this, I have meet many dedicated people in the filed and have established positive professional relationships with community organisations. Beyond my proposed learning goals, I have gained a new appreciation and understanding of how disability support services are run and funded, and have worked with variety of valued community members. Education Queensland's Supporting Students' Mental Health and Wellbeing policy promotes the notion of social sustainability recognizing "...that some students may experience varying degrees of mental health difficulties during their school life..." as well as "...the role schools can play in linking students and their families to other agencies and services to support their social and emotional wellbeing." (DETE, 2012).

(Anthony Kelly)

Can physical activity enhance behavioural and academic outcomes of students?

My service learning placement at Townsville PCYC was a highly fulfilling experience in which I was able to gain new experiences, as well as refine my current practices. Whilst completing my placement, I was able to obtain experiences associate around working as part of a team, implementing physical practices, and promoting the benefits of physical activity. I however, was unaware of the knowledge and resources in which I would gain around how physical activity can enhance ones responsibility, and leadership abilities in order to improve behavioural and academic outcomes. Whilst working in a partnership with PCYC, I was given the opportunity to work within a number of programs aimed at various age groups all with unique needs. The main focus of my placement however was associated around one particular program. This program known as Strength and Support (SAS) works with students who have been identified as being at risk of becoming disengaged at school. Through my involvement in this program, I was able to "implement engaging and flexible learner experiences for individuals and groups" (QCT, 2006 pp.5), "create and maintain safe and supportive learning experiences" (QCT, 2006 pp.10) and "implement intellectually challenging learning experiences" (QCT, 2006 p. 7)

One of the learning goals for my placement was focused around enhancing participation of individuals through catering for their needs. Working with the SAS students allowed me to accomplish this, as well us understanding the importance that physical activity can have upon the academic and behavioural achievements of these students. In accordance to Queensland Studies Authority (QSA) guidelines for grade 10 health and physical education, enabling and encouraging students to assume roles of responsibility, experiencing success, respecting differences and working positively with other (QSA, 2009) is an important aspect of ensuring a healthy life. This is exactly what the SAS program aims to do. This is done through a range of sporting and creative activities designed to engage students with higher-order thinking, and allow students to make problem solving decisions.

Being part of the SAS program provides students with the opportunity to learn how to control their learning, be part of a team, and develop and implement personal anger management strategies. This means of building positive relationships with peers and the wider community as discussed by Tapia and Mallea (2003) along with varying learning experiences allows students to build upon prior knowledge in order to gain a personal interest and engagement with the subject. Interest and engagement with a topic is that which allows students to enhance academic achievements, and thus decrease the opportunities for students to present with behavioural concerns.

Overall, I believe that completing a service learning placement with a program similar to that of the SAS program at PCYC is a valuable and worthwhile experience for future teachers. The inability of teachers to understand and know how to teach their students as discussed by McShane (2007), is one of the major reasons as to why students become disengage. Involvement in this program not only allows one to become aware of these needs for diversity, but also provides the opportunity to identify how to teach and engage all students, and in particular those challenging students.

Engaging all students is one of the big challenges that we as teachers face, and so this experience enhances real-life opportunities (Schneller, 2007). It also provides opportunities for individuals to work with a wider community and become aware of some support services that are available to these students. The SAS program has provided me with valuable experiences and knowledge which I hope to incorporate into my future teaching practices. The PCYC SAS program is one which I would recommend to future teachers of all subject areas, as despite its connection to sports, will provide valuable learning experiences which any teacher can utilise within their classrooms.

The following photos are taken of me and a group of students undertaking the SAS program.

(Kathy McDonald)

Service Learning at the Flexible Learning Centre

My service learning placement at the Flexible Learning Centre (FLC) was a very rewarding experience. Not only did I learn a great deal about permaculture and how it contributes to sustainable communities, I witnessed firsthand how the FLC's alternative approaches to learning can engage and support students who would otherwise be struggling in mainstream classrooms.

During my placement at the FLC, I 'contributed effectively to a professional team' (QCT, 2006, p.15) by forming relationships with my focus student and the staff at the centre. Through reflective discussions I gained new insights into student behaviour and the strategies employed within the centre. This assisted my personal and professional development by involvement in reflective practices (EQ, 2005), and provided me with knowledge and understandings that I can take into my future teaching career.

I acquired an understanding of how permaculture contributes to sustainable communities by attending workshops and maintaining the garden at the centre. This allowed me to achieve my first learning goal and to become part of a community, which aligns with QCT's Standard 8 'fostering positive and productive relationships with families and communities' (QCT, 2006, p.14). I gained an appreciation of the value of these relationships and saw a way of incorporating education for sustainability into future classroom practices which enhanced my professional development further. The importance of this has been highlighted in both the Australian Curriculum which includes sustainability as a cross-curriculum priority, and in the development of the Sustainability Curriculum Framework (Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, 2010).

While at the FLC, the importance of understanding ethical and legal obligations was paramount, especially in regards to confidentiality. By engaging with the philosophy of the centre and observing the strategies utilised to engage and support its students, I was able to both achieve my third learning goal and learn new skills and strategies that I can transfer into my teaching.

A service learning placement at the FLC is a valuable experience for a teacher to have. It enhances learning by relating to real-life experiences (Schneller, 2007) and offers opportunities to contribute to the wider community while providing an awareness of the support services available to both students and teachers. The knowledge and understanding of alternative approaches to learning and strategies employed with the FLC can augment teaching practices and contribute to future classrooms.

(Briony Langler)

Remote National Park's & Service Learning - Carnarvon Gorge Connects with Nature

My service learning project took place with The Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sporting and Racing: Carnarvon National Park - Carnarvon Gorge Section Rangers. Throughout my service learning project I have worked closely and collaboratively with a number of Park Rangers and education specialists to design, plan and create an environmental sustainability education program for local and visiting schools to utilise when planning an excursion to Carnarvon National Park - Carnarvon Gorge Section. Through extensive research and communication with the rangers at the Park I have learned the numerous ways that local communities and school students can help to environmentally sustain and conserve Carnarvon National Park - Carnarvon Gorge Section, this has directly influenced the outcomes and learning experiences in my education program and links in with my first learning goal ('Identify what surrounding communities can do to help conserve and protect the land, flora and fauna of Carnarvon Gorge National Park by actively researching and participating in conservation activities; and interacting with the park rangers'). I have seen first hand how the Rangers manage, sustain and conserve a National Park; from ensuring the safety of visitors to managing pests and recording and protecting endangered species and cultural sites. My service learning project has enabled me to meet my learning goals and learn things I would never had a chance to learn if I had not had the chance to participate in such a rich experience.

'Carnarvon Gorge Connects with Nature', the education program I created in collaboration with the Ranger in charge of education, Linda Thompson and other NPRSR education specialists and Rangers, spans from Prep Year to Year 7 and links explicitly to ACARA Science National Curriculum Biological Sciences descriptors, QSA SOSE Place and Space, and Culture and Identity Essential Learnings, and the Early Years Curriculum Guidelines. The focus of this program is for students and teachers to actively engage in learning experiences which encourage students to learn and develop through actively participating in organised activities that benefit the conservation of Carnarvon Gorge and their own personal learning (Tapia & Mallea, 2003; Glickman, 2009). 'Carnarvon Gorge Connects with Nature' is a very versatile program, due to the remoteness of the National Park; it provides alternative activities for schools that are unable to visit the park along with those that can. The creation of this program has enabled me to meet my third service learning personal goal - 'Develop the skills to incorporate service-learning into rich and engaging educational programs and/or resources by actively creating an educational program and/or a series of resources whilst on placement'.

Whilst undertaking my service learning project I have developed personally and professionally by enhancing and building upon my personal ability to function in a professional team (QCT, 2008) and my personal ability to create professional, organisational and personal networks, this links in with my second learning goal - 'Establish valuable ties with NPRSR and nearby schools for future personal and professional networking purposes'. Throughout my project I have progressively developed all three of my personal learning goals; I feel that I have fully met goals one and three; goal two I have only partially met in that I have only been able to connect with one school throughout the project not all of the schools in the vicinity of Carnarvon Gorge. I feel that this was due to a combination of a lapse in my time management and school holidays taking place during part of my placement. Personally my communication and time management skills have improved vastly due to the need to prioritise my tasks from work, home, and student life. Communicating is very important in any situation, but with my service learning project it was more so, as I completed most of my project off site and at home due to where I live. Being able to communicate and contribute effectively to professional teams (QCT, Standard 9) is an essential skill to have, my communication skills have improved vastly since completing my service learning project. I found time management a challenge, trying to fit my project in with work, uni and everyday activities required a lot of skill, and excellent time management planning and prioritisation.

(Amanda Sumison)