This is one of the only service-learning programs anywhere that has been co-founded and co-designed with the direct collaboration of our community partners from the outset. It was not solely a university initiative, but one that came out of a reciprocal partnership to build a program that would serve all of our needs at the same time. With my community partners, we have designed a 20-page digital Handbook for Students and Community Partners (updated each year) that provides key information on service-learning, cultural humility, and the expectations of each party during the semester.
A key innovation of our SLPD is our pioneering work on fostering “cultural humility” which we have adapted from medical education research. This specific approach goes against “competencies” and deficit models of difference, and re-frames the diverse students from a strength-based perspective. Instead of asking “How can I help these needy young people,” I have pre-service teachers ask themselves, “What can I learn from these amazing young people that will help me be a better professional?”
Each year I collaborate with 12 local agencies that work with immigrant and refugee children, youth with disabilities, youth with LGBTQ+ identities, and Indigenous children and youth. Through the SLPD, I have placed almost 400 pre-service teachers in community agency programs. The students spend at least 3 hours a week in these placements, using this hands-on experiential learning with young people to enhance their on-campus learning.
During the situation with COVID-19 many of our agencies shut down or altered their programming, so we quickly adapted. This was our 10th year of the SLPD, and we were able to have 28 undergraduate volunteers for the program, who worked with the 6 agencies who were still offering community programs for diverse youth. All but one was delivered online, and our pre-service teachers established positive relationships with these young people that kept them engaged and interested in learning and schooling.