Salt Lake Community College professor Liz Montague is teaching an English 2010 class this year full of skeptics. In fact, most of her students had no idea that they signed up for a service-learning English course.
“How often do we forget what we’ve learned at school,” Montague says. “When [service-learning] students look back, they’ll be able to say, ‘I made a difference in the community because of this.’”
The workload is more than your traditional English class, but the results are far more rewarding.
The first week of the course Montague asks her students to write down what they believe to be a life altering experience. Most of the students tend to write down a generic definition with halfhearted intentions. By the end of the course she comes back to these handwritten reflections, when the service is complete, and nearly all of her students reflect upon some sort of life-changing experience they encountered throughout the semester.
By integrating service in standard courses it gives students a hands-on experience to apply what they’ve been learning. Essays are no longer written without meaning, everything they write becomes more practical because they are engaged and involved in changing their community.
Montague also notes that although she teaches both service and non-service learning courses this semester, she believes that more students apply what they have learned in class when they are working together with a community partner.
Every now and again there’s a fault in the process, but Montague says that “although service learning still has its kinks, it’s come a long way than when we first started.”
She finds joy in giving the next generation of college graduates something to look back on. Not only does service learning engage students in the classroom, it also builds a stronger community outside of school, and that’s exactly what society needs in order for us to keep moving forward.
With the halfway point of the semester drawing near, Montague already sees the skeptic students’ viewpoints about service learning changing. More students come to class willing to learn and contribute ideas.
“Service learning gives scholars a chance to step out of their comfort zone and into the real world,” Montague says.