Monday, April 11, 2011

The Food Bank Partnership: Cultural Diversity & Community Service Learning

Tracey Burke began her Social Work 243 class in the Spring of 2005, but she says the first year or so she was experimenting with how to engage students effectively in the community. Now she thinks she has found a good answer in a partnership with the Food Bank of Alaska and other community organizations that allow her students to spend time in the warehouse, at food pantries and kitchens, and providing outreach to families who may qualify for food stamps. The course is organized around hunger, which enables students to see patterns in diversity as a mechanism for social inequality. Students learn through experience that anyone can be hungry, but that race and ethnicity, gender, family structures, etc. shape who is more likely to be hungry.
Prof. Tracey Burke teaches SWK 243
SWK 243 Cultural Diversity & Community Service Learning meets a Social Science GER requirement, and students typically are social workers, for whom it is required, Early Childhood majors, for whom it is a selective course, or students from a variety of other majors. The service-learning literature suggests that 20 hours of engagement in the community is a "tipping point" for a meaningful experience, and Dr. Burke is focusing on increasing the "learning side" by integrating student experiences through intentional reflection.
Dr. Burke organizes reflection assignments now around a model espoused by Patti Clayone & colleagues called DEAL -- DEAL stands for Describe, Examine, & Articulate Learning. Student experiences of the course material and the community engagement have supported students in a deeper level of questioning this year. Students have described themselves in their reflections as confronting their opinions and biases: "This process has changed the way in which I evaluate issues and people," was a typical blog entry. Dr. Burke teaches SWK 243 each fall and spring and will also offer it for the first time this summer.

Professor Burke is the recipient of the 2011 Selkregg Award for Community Engagement & Service Learning for an additional research project with the Food Bank of Alaska. Burke and several students will be conducting interviews with clients of the Food Bank to capture their stories and further elucidate a picture that quantitative research, already available for Anchorage, does not fully portray.

Patti Clayton's manual on implementing reflection in service-learning is available for faculty in the CCEL office/learning library.

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