Service-Learning: Campus and Community Collaboration: From Shibboleth to Reality

by Roger Henry
Brevard Community College, Cocoa, Florida

rHenry_cropService-learning program cannot exist without community support, effective service sites, and supervisors as educators. Service-learning, when done properly, prizes the assets of students, college, and community. The principles of service-learning undoubtedly speak to the necessary egalitarian relationship between server and served; the mutuality and reciprocity of roles; and the community and students as owners of the service and learning, respectively (Sigmon, 1979).

Envisioning and building a continuum of community partner relationships is important for successful service-learning programs and community and college benefit. Most service-learning initiatives develop a clearinghouse function as one of the first major tasks (i.e., referring and placing students in community organizations or projects). In beginning service-learning programs, deciding which issues or projects to work with is usually difficult. As programs mature, mutually beneficial partnerships develop with some of the priority projects and lead to a few full-blown collaborations that feature long-term inter dependencies (Campus Compact, 1994, p. 6).

Recognizing the legitimacy and purpose of all three venues is important, but several factors may cause differences in how service-learning programs address each venue on the continuum:

  1. Life-stage of the campus program (beginning, established, institutionalized)
  2. Campus/community relationship already established or nonexistent
  3. Past experience(s) of the service-learning faculty or staff involved
  4. Priority of the community in the program’s mission, goals, and objectives
  5. The way community needs are assessed and determined (if they are assessed at all)
  6. Resources available in the community and at the college for effective collaborations

Service-learning offers an impressive array of benefits for its major constituents: students, college, and community.

For students, service-learning can enrich and enhance academic learning; document and codify experience; develop problem-solving and other critical-thinking skills; improve self-esteem; contribute to civic literacy and responsibility; enhance career or occupational development; broaden horizons; assist with the application of classroom knowledge; improve communication, writing, and life skills; instill a sense of commitment to human service; lead to an understanding and appreciation of cultural, ethnic, and social similarities and differences; and help students grow affectively.

For the higher education institution, service-learning can improve public service delivery and commitment, broaden the conceptualization of the education role, increase learning opportunities, check the relevance of learning, improve the motivational base of instruction and learning, improve linkages with the community, reorient the educative process to meet human needs, improve student satisfaction and retention, improve community/college relations, and better prepare students for the world of work and citizenship.

For the community, service-learning can augment service delivery, increase human resources for problem solving, lead to better career choices for students, increase access to college resources, improve college-community relations, increase ability to hire effective students, increase future citizen support and commitment, and expand roles for student supervisors.

Although the above is not an exhaustive list of the mutual benefits for service-learning constituents, an awareness and appreciation of the powerful and reciprocal impacts of good service-learning courses and programs can focus and energize partners to make service-learning collaboration a priority for the benefit of all.

Collaboration has become a shibboleth in today’s service-learning jargon, but real partnering takes tireless effort, effective priority setting, time, and resources to share both needs and strengths in an era of scarce resources and lean-and-mean organizational realities.

Joe Berney (1997), president of Networking for Youth, delineates some tips for effective partnerships, which include the following: (1) If you don’t care who gets the credit, you can do anything. (2) Build partners around a common vision and think big. (3) Try to leverage existing resources and eliminate turfs.

Terry Pickeral (1995), in K-12 and Community College: Natural Partners in Service-Learning, elaborates on the connections or mutual benefits, challenges, and strategies for collaborations involving the community college, K-12, and the community. The following benefits are noted for community college and K-12 connections:

  • everyone wins because more gets accomplished than could be singularly accomplished by each organization;
  • shared responsibility in achieving goals does away with tradition, territory and trust issues;
  • creation of a flat/nonhierarchical leadership model provides more ownership for project/program goals;
  • human and financial resources are stretched dramatically;
  • synergy is created;
  • assessment of similarities rather than differences is encouraged;
  • individual and group allies are created;
  • group consensus is valued in decision making and thus higher-quality decisions are made;
  • cohesive bonds are developed;
  • informal networking is strengthened;
  • traditional paradigms are challenged and unique solutions to problems are offered;
  • the common good is promoted; and
  • models are created for others to replicate.

He suggests that there are substantial positive alignments between the community college and community, especially in light of mutual benefits that provide quality opportunities for K-12 students, college students, and their communities.

John Kretzmann and John McKnight (1993) in Building Communities From the Inside Out, note that it is vital to view community building from an assets perspective, with a focus on developing the community to its capacity. Both the community and college have assets for building productive relationships, and each has much to gain from effective collaborations.

Equally important, potential collaborators should be aware of the possible impediments to successful collaboration. In K-14 or K-16 collaborations, for example, these possible impediments can be troublesome to viable partnering:

  • Access and qualification issues
  • Differing institutional commitments
  • Few real connections established
  • Lack of funds for collaboration
  • Resources spread too thin
  • Conflicting ownership in the collaboration
  • Cultural gap between K-12/higher education
  • Differing priorities of both institutions
  • Governance differences
  • Past, present political atmosphere, distrust
  • Unequal partners
  • Programmatic issues: liability, age, service site effectiveness, transportation
  • Lack of infrastructure to develop effective support systems
  • Curriculum requirements that do not mesh
  • Logistical scheduling differences
  • Student orientations or characteristics
  • Differing reward systems
  • Institutional crisis or problems
  • Timing that is not right

In this paper, I will address the community role and partnerships in service-learning programming; highlight Brevard Community College’s particularly successful partnership with the Brevard County School Board; suggest strategies for community collaborations; discuss briefly the customization of service-learning in diverse community settings; list a few evaluation methods to measure the success of collaboration; note some lessons learned from years of working with the community; and specify useful tools for collaborative efforts. Several useful forms and tools for the practitioner are included in the Appendix.

One final caveat is that this paper addresses collaboration between a service-learning program and the community. It is not about the total collaboration and commitment between an institution and community. A good service-learning collaboration can lead to or embellish other more holistic partnering relationships between college and community.

Community Role and Partnerships

As a “community” college, Brevard works with myriad human service agencies, government offices, businesses and industries, and other organizations. Involvement and partnership with its community is reflected in the mission and educational delivery system of the college and in the nature and diversity of its students. The students are the community and feel ownership and responsibility to that community. Both the needs of our “community” students and vision (and experience) of a comprehensive service-learning program lead to our approach with community as an integral part of service-learning. Indeed, without the community organizations and “supervisor educators,” service-learning at Brevard would not exist. This section delineates the importance of the community in service-learning, describes some key partnerships, and lists concrete strategies and lessons learned for outreach.

Since the inception of service-learning at Brevard, the community has determined the needs to be met through student involvement. Regularly, the Center for Service-Learning (CSL) requests written job descriptions from agencies, organizations, or community groups. The organizations develop the job descriptions for their needs. Organizations determine the number of service-learning slots, roles students play, and the duration of student service commitment. Special community projects are developed at the request of students, key community leaders, or Brevard Community College (BCC) personnel. Community representatives participate on the CSL Advisory Committee and are key members in providing direction to the Center and its programs.

Community and state or federal funding of specific societal needs yield new community projects that include student service (i.e., literacy, child care, safety, drug prevention, and mentoring). For example, $190,000 was awarded from the Florida State Attorney General’s office for a collaboration with the school system, Police Athletic League, Youth Services Center, and Brevard Community College. The CSL played a key role in developing service positions for “at-risk” ninth graders to do service-learning with BCC students at local human services organizations. College students also tutored the ninth graders, and CSL staff developed service-learning curricula with the high school. The youth proved to be tremendous assets and resources in their community.

Agency or organization direct supervisors of students are truly educators. They create the service tasks for students and orient, train, supervise, and evaluate students’ service performances. They speak in BCC classes to educate and recruit students; present at AIDS, environmental, and political forums or events; and attend CSL workshops with students, faculty, and CSL staff. Several organizations hold orientation or training sessions on campus and/or in the service setting. Many recommend outstanding students for scholarships and service-learning recognition awards. Supervisors provide ongoing feedback to students and participate in reflection or class sessions at the college. Orientation/training for students, faculty, and community is provided.

Community organizations validate the CSL’s importance to the community in many ways. They appear with students and staff on radio and television shows, send thank-you letters about CSL support to key decision makers at the college, and publicize the program in newspapers, newsletters, and at formal recognition events. Many offer BCC students paid positions within their organizations. Agencies regularly evaluate the CSL and service-learning program and get feedback from clients to further codify CSL impacts on the community.

Service sites create the niches for student service learners and help the CSL to develop a continuum of service opportunity in the community, which is necessary for optimum diverse student involvement. All of the following are needed to involve and support students with varied academic, experience, and skill backgrounds: Short- and long-term experiences; day and night, weekday and weekend opportunities; direct service, advocacy, and leadership roles; and exposure and in-depth service opportunities.

Because of logistical, philosophical, or resource factors, not all organizations are willing to adapt, or capable of adapting, to the needs of a service-learning program (or vice versa). The CSL considers the following variables in developing or maintaining a service site (i.e., safety, importance of community need, student service site feedback, community assets, learning potential despite obstacles, and future change possibilities). Consequently, many organizations adapt “volunteer” programs significantly to accommodate students once the benefits of service-learning are realized.

Conversely, service-learning students do not fit the particular needs of some community projects. Time constraints, commitment levels, and skill and experience factors may limit student accessibility to some community projects or agencies.

As programs adapt and develop, usually more accommodations can be made to expand the service site scenario.

Service Site Scenario

The CSL works with more than 240 community organizations, agencies, and projects. Many are placement sites, some are partners with the CSL, and a few are collaborators. The number and kinds of relationships change according to community needs, agency resources, funding priorities, personnel turnover, and ability to work with students effectively.

The CSL has the following program areas for students: animal care, the arts, child care, community development, crisis care, drug prevention/rehabilitation, education, environment, family services, government and political involvement, health care, historical, justice system, media related, mental health, physically challenged, recreation, senior services, special children/adults, subsistence services, and youth services.

Students serve as mentors and tutors for school-age youth, work with AIDS organizations and clients, monitor the health of the Indian River Lagoon, ride with the ambulance service, help abused children, lessen the loneliness of the elderly, aid the homeless and hungry, work with domestic violence victims, comfort dying people, monitor fairness in the court system, compile oral histories in the African-American community, assist runaway and throwaway adolescents, answer crisis calls, organize voter registration drives, get involved in political campaigns, supplement social workers in county government offices, assist severely disabled babies and children, tutor in after-school programs, lead recycling projects, serve the destitute and dying in India, help a health clinic in Chernobyl, clean local beaches, and assist teachers in day care programs.

During the past 10 years, the CSL has worked as a community partner on several projects. The Student Literacy Corps project matched hundreds of BCC students with adults and youth to help improve their basic literacy skills. Currently, a far-reaching African-American History project involves several faculty, students, key administrators, significant community leaders, and the NAACP. Students and faculty are interviewing senior citizens and collecting and codifying memorabilia and artifacts. The seniors are historical professors for the students and college.

Scores of students serve as role models and tutors at Hacienda Girls’ Ranch, a residential facility for abused girls. In 1992, some of the girls from Hacienda enrolled at BCC for the first time. Although their education at BCC is completely financed by Hacienda, no resident had ever (since 1973) attended BCC until BCC students became active role models in 1989.

The county government’s volunteer program has become a formidable ally and partner. Students serve in rich and diverse capacities (e.g., social work, probation/parole, architecture and engineering departments, board of elections, alternative services division, hazardous materials and waste division, medical examiner’s office, family and children services, data programming, emergency management, and others). Students serve as volunteers, service learners, work-study community service workers, and interns. Many technical, vocational, and associate of arts degree students participate in this continuum of service opportunity.

The best example of a dynamic collaboration with an organization involves the college’s CSL and the Brevard County School Board. The following are excerpts from Maxwell C. King’s article, K-14: Partners in Service-Learning, in Campus Community Collaborations (Pickeral & Peters, 1996).

Historical Context

The college and school district have a rich history of cooperation, including early admission/dual enrollment programs, literacy education, and college student volunteers who have served for years in schools countywide. The major catalyst for our present collaboration has been the creation and development of BCC’s Center for Service-Learning (CSL). The CSL, established in 1988, has placed and supported more than 14,000 students in hundreds of community agencies and organizations. Annually, the CSL places more than 350 students in the school system who tutor, mentor, assist teachers, and work in diverse capacities. In addition, the Brevard County School Board, through its volunteer program, the Apple Corps, has been an effective conduit for the placement and support of BCC students.

Because of these two critical ingredients, the college’s commitment to service-learning and the school board’s willingness to utilize college students, the framework was established for significant collaboration. The college established key relationships with several school personnel, including the district Apple Corps coordinator, assistant principals, counselors, and exceptional education program administrators.

A small, but important minigrant was coauthored by BCC service-learning staff and Johnson Junior High School in 1989. BCC students tutored and mentored about 20 at-risk students at the school. Through successful implementation of the grant, the college demonstrated its intent and capacity to provide students as resources to help in the schools.

Simultaneously, college students documented, through evaluations and journals, their positive learning experiences through serving in the schools. Many college students decided to make teaching a career because of their experiences. The CSL shared these testimonials with key school district administrators.

Periodically, service-learning staff spoke with teachers and administrators about the wonders and benefits of service-learning. Several key resource mailers were sent to school district staff. One of the most critical ingredients for further development of the partnership emerged right in the middle of the college’s curriculum: scores of high school students, who were early-admission or dual-enrolled at BCC, began doing service-learning in their regular college classes for partial or extra credit. Some of these students became ambassadors in their high schools for service-learning initiatives at the schools.

Concurrently, three other factors provided the impetus for an eventual model service-learning partnership: (1) The Florida Academic Scholars Program was established by the state which required high school students to do 75 hours of community service as a part of the criteria to receive the scholarship. (2) A service-learning grant was submitted by Brevard Community College to FIPSE (Funds for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education), a federally funded program. Although the proposal was not funded, the college and school both supported and authored the grant application. This failure planted fertile seeds for the future. (3) Florida’s K-12 Learn and Serve Program provided service-learning grants to Brevard County schools individually. Teachers began to seek information from the college on how to conceptualize and utilize service-learning.

School reform initiatives statewide (Blueprint 2000 and Florida Scholars) placed service-learning on the table of educational possibilities. The college, through its Staff and Program Development funds, developed a pilot project in the fall of 1994. Reflection and Incorporating Service and Education (RISE) demonstrated that high schools could effectively incorporate service-learning into regular classes.

During this critical time period, the school district designated the resource teacher for Accelerated Programs and Equity to be the contact for the CSL. For the first time, districtwide support was evident. Individual schools began to have more autonomy on curriculum matters, but district proactive guidance was vital (reciprocally reinforced each other).

The provost and dean of instruction on our Cocoa campus enthusiastically endorsed and supported our blossoming efforts. Dr. Tace Crouse encouraged the inclusion of BCC’s service-learning course, Community Involvement, in dual-enrollment course offerings with the school system (see Appendix, A11-A13). Additionally, the provost authorized and championed a part-time K-12 coordinator position for the academic year 1995-96. This proved to be the “leaven in the bread” for increasing the breadth and depth of our partnership. The CSL director, district resource teacher, and K-12 coordinator could now work as a team to coordinate and implement new service-learning curriculum initiatives.

Recent Innovations

During 1995-97, several initiatives came to fruition:

  • The continuation of building a service-learning infrastructure in selected schools: Service-learning staff worked with individual school staff to support teachers and students. The recruitment, placement, and follow-up of student service learners provided much needed support.
  • Coauthoring a Learn and Serve grant yielded an official school district commitment to enter into partnership with BCC.
  • The development and scheduling of a dual-enrollment service-learning course, SOW 2054, Community Involvement, at one high school. Ten students enrolled for this initial service-learning course. This led to the scheduling of courses at three high schools for the 1996-97 school year. More than 100 students enrolled in the courses (see Appendix, A14-A17).
  • The initiation of ongoing teacher training in service-learning included in-service teacher training workshops that are held each semester. The initial workshop included 20 teachers who received four hours of training in the service-learning pedagogy. A recertification course composed of 16 hours of seminars and 32 hours of service attracted 10 teachers in its initial offering. The course, SOW 2054, Community Involvement, provides opportunities for teachers to build competence in service-learning through personal participation in service and in reflection. During fall semester 1996, a second course was developed for recertification, EDG 2020, Applications of Service-Learning. The course is open to elementary, middle school, high school, and adult education teachers in any discipline.
  • Collaboration with Cocoa High School in an at-risk youth program funded by a grant from the Florida Attorney General’s office: Teachers and students were taught service-learning, and a service mentor program, pairing college students with at-risk high school students at service site locations was implemented.
  • The CSL and school board work together on several administrative and curriculum matters that enhance service-learning throughout the school district. BCC service-learning staff are infusing service-learning into the curriculum framework. Staff work closely with the district’s grant coordinator to provide technical assistance to teachers and schools who seek service-learning grants. CSL staff speak at various school and districtwide meetings, such as curriculum contact and teacher meetings.
  • The CSL and resource teacher for Accelerated Programs and Equity promulgated a plan to teach service-learning dual-enrollment courses at selected service sites (e.g., Brevard Zoo and Health First Holmes Regional Hospital). Both action and reflection would be accomplished on-site. This mitigates some logistical problems confronted when we offered dual-enrollment courses at the high schools (see Suggestions/Lessons Learned for Community Collaborations).
  • The CSL and Palm Bay High School created a curriculum component for students who serve as teen court volunteers for the Police Athletic League/Palm Bay High School program.
  • America Reads/Brevard Deeds project has been implemented to recruit, place, and support more than 125 new tutors (who will work with K-6 children) in school and community settings. Starting in September 1997, this project will have a diverse advisory group and involve work-study, service-learning, and volunteer college students. A partnership, funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service through the Campus Compact National Center for Community Colleges, will be developed between Brevard Community College and the University of Central Florida to address the reading needs of K-3 students. Student leaders and coordinators will play a vital role in this initiative.

Suggestions/Lessons Learned for Community Collaborations

  • Provide resources on campus to build an infrastructure for service-learning: Because BCC had a strong college service-learning program with a proven track record, resources, including staff, could be extended to work with key partners. The CSL resources and technical assistance capability enabled a jump-start for service-learning in organizations.
  • Set a priority for collaboration: Although the college places student service-learners in more than 240 community organizations, it identifies a few top issues and organizations to commit more resources. For example, the school system was an excellent choice because of past BCC student service learners’ experiences in the schools and the parity of overall missions to educate the populace of Brevard County.
  • “All for one and one for all” philosophy: Recognition of our common purposes, problems, and philosophies is an important catalyst to our collaboration successes.
  • Flexibility and persistence are important: Partners are not necessarily equal in the beginning of collaborations. Start with small successes and initiate pilot projects to demonstrate the worth of collaboration. Quick documentation and dissemination of data on the impacts of service-learning are vital. We found that timing and the needs/assets of all collaborators are vital to consider before meaningful progress can be achieved. For example, the school system’s immediate priorities and needs were of utmost importance and served as a means for introducing service-learning (e.g., at-risk youth, safety, exceptional education, and gifted program). Frequent assessments and evaluations are essential to achieving positive results for everyone. Failures (grant application rejection) provide windows of opportunity for future collaborative successes.
  • Local action and national vision are needed: Key community and college staff are needed to accomplish the nuts and bolts of service-learning. However, utilizing national and state service and curricular frameworks, programs, and success models is important to drive the engine of service-learning collaborations.
  • Top administrative support is vital: The connections for successful collaboration emanate from all levels and constituents of the college and community, but it is critical to have top administrator support for service-learning program development.
  • Always think in threes: The community is an important part of service-learning. Service-learning is a triangle of assets, needs, roles, benefits, and functions: students, faculty/staff, and community. At Brevard, we intentionally include the community in recognition events, program planning, professional development opportunities, and in student performance assessment. Community assets are as important as community needs.
  • Let the community define the service needs and look for community strengths.
  • Educate others about the mutual benefits of service-learning. Market your program and measure the effects of service-learning on all constituents, including the community.
  • Start with community organizations where you can succeed and where there are great needs or assets. Let the community define the needs, but not all needs can be addressed by service-learning.
  • Develop two continua with one purpose: Just as the college service-learning program needs to develop and nurture a diversity of service opportunities, community placements need to be diversified and expanded to meet student logistical, time, skill, and learning needs. A service-learning program cannot be a partner with every organization. CSL placement sites range the total continuum, from clearinghouse opportunities to extensive collaboration.
  • Community needs/assets exist: Meet key agency, volunteer center, and community leaders. A program or class can help research needs/assets with the community. A key strategy of the CSL was to introduce the program through a mailer to interested partners listed in an existent data base. A short letter, brochure, and blank job description led to scores of interested agencies for our program. Key individual agency visits were followed by mutual planning. Initially, the CSL chose not to work with every community organization nor to meet every need (it cannot). However, a variety of projects and service experiences were necessary to involve a cross-section of our student body. Getting to know the community, setting priorities, and being open to change paid big dividends for our program. Community college students, BCC faculty, and local media sources were invaluable in recruiting community service sites.
  • Time and effort are required: Ultimately, service-learning experiences are only as good as individual service sites. Faculty or staff must communicate regularly with service sites and visit periodically. How much time should faculty or service-learning staff spend in the community? Ideally, a full-time CSL staff person could be working with community projects and organizations. We learned that short-term grants or sporadic support from the college can be deleterious to meeting real needs or developing true collaborations. For example, a CSL staff person worked part-time with the school system because of a college Staff and Program Development grant, but when the grant ended, the staff commitment lessened due to the lack of CSL staff resources and other commitments of the service-learning program. This caused a weakening of our collaborative efforts during this time. To rectify the problem, the CSL is committing a regular staff person to serve as a school system liaison/coordinator on an ongoing basis. Instead of an add-on position, it will be part of CSL staff’s regular responsibilities.
  • The college’s orientation may not be appropriate for some community settings. For example, when our dual enrollment service-learning courses began at the schools, logistical problems were experienced because high school students had more difficulty leaving campus to do their service work. Likewise, many higher education programs neglect the cultural and historical frameworks of a community setting. Good orientation and ongoing training and support are important ingredients for good, mutual partnerships. Each service site, even within the same organization, differs according to philosophy, ability, and administrative support. Tailoring service-learning initiatives to individual settings is important.
  • College students (or high school students) can serve multiple roles and can lead or coordinate projects. This priority helps to develop leadership in students and mentoring relationships with project staff and community citizens. Building ownership for service-learning is important for all stakeholders.
  • Fledgling collaborations can be impaired or abrogated if service-learning resources are not sustained for the long term.
  • Orientation for all service-learning partners is vital to the success of collaboration. Students need realistic and specific information about service-learning positions and the community organization or setting in which they serve and learn, including cultural frameworks, history, and strengths. Orientation begins when faculty or staff are recruiting students (e.g., fliers, job descriptions, class presentations, office visits and interviews, service-learning course components and reflection materials).

Faculty members can avail themselves of Teaching for Service seminars, in which a major component of each seminar is information about the community (e.g., interacting with a panel of community volunteer coordinators and staff or with citizens and clients of organizations). It is particularly helpful for instructors to experience the service-learning process and actually participate in an orientation and service placement. Another useful modus operandi is to pair students and instructors on service-learning projects. Of course, supplementing experiences for faculty with community background information and readings about community and service-learning is important to “ground” faculty in community relationships that are reciprocal and mutually beneficial. At BCC, faculty visit the Center for Service-Learning as a part of the course. This exposure educates instructors about the assets and services of a service-learning office.

On-site meetings are important because they enable faculty and service staff to plan, supervise, follow up, and evaluate. Project or agency staff should have the opportunity to receive as much information as possible about the college’s service-learning program, courses, and students. Agency packets/guides and orientation to service-learning information should be developed and used regularly.

A systematic way to help supervisors of student service-learners should be a top priority for any service-learning program or course. At Brevard Community College, the Center for Service-Learning facilitates Supervisor as Educator workshops and feedback sessions to orient the community to service-learning and the particular learning needs of students. Imparting knowledge about student uniqueness, strengths, and characteristics is invaluable to the partnering process.

Regardless of the stakeholder involved, open communications, opportunities for reflection, and ongoing assessment are cornerstones for success in ensuring some balance between service and learning, student and community development, and college and community attainment of program objectives or outcomes.

  • Keep in mind that staff and faculty community involvement is vital. BCC service-learning staff were active, since 1988, doing volunteer work and developing an infrastructure for volunteerism and service-learning in the community. They helped to develop the Brevard Volunteer Center and Brevard Association of Volunteer Management and held workshops on volunteer management and service-learning before the program began. A course (called Volunteer Leadership) for continuing education credit for agency, staff, and student leaders was offered before service-learning courses were developed at the college. Some institutions offer regular institutes, college credit or scholarships for community personnel.
  • Provide clear expectations and responsibilities for all constituents, including organizations or projects. Service-learning contracts and agency/college planning agreements are useful (see Appendix, A4 through A10 and A20 through A22).
  • Communicate regularly with community stakeholders. The importance of regular and varied means of communication between the college and community cannot be overestimated. Communication, both verbally and in writing, should flow before, during, and after student service-learning experiences. Letters of introduction, project planning forms, service-learning agreements, written project and student evaluations, on-site reports, delineated service site job descriptions, and site appraisals from service-learners and student coordinator/liaisons are all useful.
  • Timely and well-placed telephone calls or site visits to community service organizations are not only useful, but vital, in problem solving and program improvement and can help to prevent crisis. Giving and receiving ongoing feedback among partners can insure a program or course against community exploitation, student injury, and liability concerns and can lead to attainment of mutual objectives. A good working relationship with community partners can accomplish much, regardless of circumstances; a nonexistent or negative relationship can abrogate the best of intentions. Good intentions only work with a good, fundamentally sound project, of which one tenet of good performance is regular and honest communication.
  • Develop sufficient program services for faculty, student, and community. The listed services to the community should parallel the number and kinds of services provided to students and faculty. Following is a list of services provided to Brevard County organizations or projects by the CSL at Brevard Community College:
    • Provides service-learning resource packets for effective utilization of students’ skills and talents
    • Provides student coordinator/liaisons for priority projects
    • Provides service job description forms
    • Consults regularly with key agencies about service-learning placements, positions, and service site satisfaction
    • Publicizes agency service opportunities through CSL directory, brochures, student newspaper, classroom presentations, etc.
    • Arranges for agency representatives to speak in selected classes
    • Schedules orientations for major projects
    • Refers students directly to agency
    • Provides student follow-up through written and oral communications
    • Recognizes outstanding service sites
    • Assists with improved placement and supervision of student service learners through the Volunteer Leadership class, Supervisor as Educator workshops, consultations, and technical resource distribution
    • Provides opportunities for BCC faculty, staff, and students to “taste” service through special programs
    • Assists with monitoring and supervision of students in large programs or partnerships
    • Schedules CARE or Crisis Days on campus for organizations to recruit student service learners
    • Provides for service site visitations to selected agencies
    • Provides feedback on service-site effectiveness for service learners
    • Arranges for supervisors to visit classrooms to educate, recruit, and assess student performance

Useful Tools in Collaboration

Several practical resources are available for use in collaborating with agencies (see Appendix, A1 through A6, A8 through A10, and A18).

  • Indicators of Effective Service-Learning Collaboration Between Service-Learning Program and Community: A self assessment of 34 items to help faculty or staff rate their collaboration effectiveness.
  • Program Planning Form: The service-learning program and host agency agree to assume specific responsibilities and tasks of a project.
  • Student Service-Learning Plan or Agreement: Delineates service-learning objectives, activities to achieve objectives, and evidence to be provided to evaluate student service and learning. Faculty/service-learning staff, students, and community representatives sign the agreement.
  • Needs Overlap Analysis Exercise: Agency or organization job development exercise to help create challenging positions for student service learners.
  • Community Service-Learning Job Description: One-page form for agency personnel to complete. Specifies qualifications needed, duties/responsibilities, time commitment, duration of service, orientation schedule, training required, and number of students needed. (Also, a project or group job description form is available for starting new projects or for meeting special community needs).
  • Agency Packet: Useful information about service-learning, agency responsibility, mutual expectations, options for students at the college, agency questionnaire results, student documentation forms, etc.

Customizing for Diverse Constituencies

Brevard Community College services a county 75 miles long and 25 miles wide with four campuses and one academic center. All serve similar but different communities and have unique campus environments. The diverse nature of our campuses and communities poses interesting opportunities and challenges for service-learning programs. What are some important strategies utilized to maximize service-learning programming in each surrounding community? In this section, I will attempt to answer questions about “customizing” service-learning to meet diverse needs.

The surrounding communities and availability of resources lead to different strategies in working with community organizations and needs. Adjacent to one campus is a very low-income community with real needs but no prevalent service sites or diversity of agencies. The CSL attempts to help this area with targeted grants to develop services. Service-learning program collaborations are vital in sharing resources or creating programs with the community. Recently, the CSL has initiated an African-American History project and has received a large grant to collaborate with the local high school, Police Athletic League, and Youth Services Center in developing an at-risk youth service program that targets community safety and education. A campus lake pollution monitoring program utilizes local high school students working with college microbiology students to restore the lake. A grant was secured from the Florida Campus Compact for this important ongoing project. A Habitat for Humanity project involves BCC students in building houses right on the doorstep of the campus. School mentoring/tutoring programs have been successful.

Some students from this campus must travel great distances to get to more diverse agencies (e.g., physical therapy related, health care, or abused children facilities). Also, there are fewer opportunities to get weekend or evening service assignments, which are more accessible on other campuses.

Another campus is near a large community population with tremendous existent resources and a diversity of placement opportunities. A clearinghouse format with students placed in a plethora of organizations is the priority of the CSL office. A collaboration of K-14 is a major focal point because the campus is fairly close to three high schools with a large amount of early-admission and dual-enrollment students. The majority of students live near many of the service sites; therefore, travel time is shorter and the logistics are easier.


Evaluation is ongoing and an important part of BCC’s service-learning program. Both qualitative and quantitative instruments are used to measure the impacts of service-learning on students, community, and the curriculum. The results are disseminated widely to demonstrate the worth of the program and to educate significant decision makers on the powerful effects of service-learning and CSL productivity. The following instruments are routinely used in working with community organizations or projects and can be incorporated into the design of a comprehensive program evaluation.

  • Project Evaluation: Completed at the end of each academic year by agency service-learning coordinators. Used to evaluate CSL performance, objectives, accomplishments, and community needs (see Appendix, A23-A24).
  • Agency Student Evaluation: Completed each semester by direct agency supervisors of students. Used to assess service progress/performance of students and to document quality and quantity of service delivery to the community. Placement confirmation form, service hour report, and midterm and final performance evaluations are given to the instructor, the CSL, and the student.
  • Unstructured Agency Feedback: Derived periodically from interviews or correspondence.
  • Student Separation Card: Sent to students who terminate the assignment, have trouble with the assignment, or are difficult to contact about placement status.
  • Community Service-Learning Questionnaire: Various types of questions used to derive information on students and their service-learning experiences. Students rate the value of their service-learning experiences; effects on majors/careers; performance of the CSL, faculty, and service site; effects of service-learning on retention, academic performance, civic and personal growth, college satisfaction, and careers/occupations. The questionnaire also elicits information on the demographics and motivation of the student. Student service learners complete the questionnaire at the end of each semester. Results are distributed widely to faculty, staff, administrators, students, and community organizations and are presented at workshops and conferences.
  • Research Survey: Instrument used to compare service learners versus students who are not service learners in the same academic courses. It is also used to compare service-learning option students versus students in stand-alone service-learning courses. The survey measures impacts on students, college, community, career/occupation, academic, personal, and civic development.
  • Client Evaluations: Essay or short-answer questionnaires periodically used to obtain feedback directly from agency clients served by student service learners. The evaluations are usually tied to a grant requirement (e.g., Student Literacy Corps project) or used in priority programs.
  • Service Site Report Form: Analysis of an on-site agency visit by a CSL staff person. This form provides insights into changing agency needs, logistics, and job descriptions. Used by CSL staff for project improvement (see Appendix, A19).


Regardless of the kind of service-learning initiative implemented at colleges and universities, the community is an important partner with distinctive roles, functions, needs, and assets. Without community, service-learning does not exist. Good service-learning partnerships grow out of mutual respect, dignity, and a realization of self-worth from both student service learners and community members. Indeed they are the same at BCC.

Community organizations and citizens contribute much to our programs, students, and institutions. Service recipients are teachers and helpers; supervisors are role models and educators.

Reciprocity, empowerment, and the mutual benefits of service-learning are not just shibboleths; these qualities define and guide successful service-learning partnerships. Brevard’s approach to service-learning, which inextricably links students, curriculum, and community in a triangle of needs/assets, roles, and responsibilities, has led to a dynamic, flexible, resilient program that meets the needs of the community and college. Clearinghouse service sites, partners, and collaborators abound on our service-learning continuum.

One collaborator, the Brevard County School Board, has taught us much about successful practices and arduous challenges in meeting mutual objectives. Recognizing the importance of sufficient resources, sustained efforts, and faculty/staff utilization in paving the way for students is a lesson well learned. Without the strengths and assets of our partners, true collaboration cannot exist. The community, organizations, and citizens not only help to prepare students, but they are also vital educators for students, faculty, and staff. In this sense, the real educating becomes shared among students, community, and the instructors/college.

Lessons learned from Brevard’s college-community collaborations include the following:

  • Benefits from service-learning need to be defined, articulated, and measured. Student, college, and community impacts need to be ascertained. Thus far, higher education has not helped enough to codify the latter.
  • Mutual orientation, ongoing support, and regular and open communications are tenets of good performance for community collaborations.
  • Just as our campuses and institutions differ, communities are diverse with special needs and assets that call for service-learning customization for that uniqueness.
  • Evaluation needs to be a regular ongoing part of our service-learning collaborations. The community needs to be a major player in measuring community, program, and student outcomes of service-learning. Conversely, service-learning programs and courses need to evaluate the effectiveness of service sites for meeting the learning and developmental needs of our students.

An abundance of publications and resources is available to help service-learning practitioners in developing the frameworks and methods for effective collaboration. Because of the changes in society, especially cutbacks in many resources to address societal needs, colleges and universities need to take a more active role in community mobilization and social transformation. Stepping up to the challenge is not an option; it is a requirement for everyone to become involved and take action. The well-being and health of our society depends on it.

Effective community relations are vitally needed for successfully meeting real community needs through service-learning initiatives. To be “community citizens,” colleges and universities must do more than just talk about the importance of collaboration; they must provide the infrastructure and frameworks to be partners in community.


Campus Compact. (1994). Mapping the geography of service on a college campus: Strategic questions about the institution, stakeholders, philosophies and community relationships. Providence, RI: Author.

Berney, J. (1997, April-June). Collaboration: How to start and make it work. Volunteer Leadership, 22-24.

King, M. (1996). K-14: Partners in service-learning. In T. Pickeral and K. Peters (Eds.), Campus community collaborations: Examples and resources for community colleges (pp. 27-30). Mesa, Arizona: Campus Compact National Center for Community Colleges.

Kretzmann, J. P. & McKnight, J. L. (1993). Building communities from the inside out: A path toward finding and mobilizing a community’s assets. Chicago: ACTA Publications.

Pickeral, T. (1995, May). K-12 and community colleges: Natural partners in service-learning. Paper presented at the Campus Compact National Center for Community Colleges Fourth Annual Conference, Scottsdale, AZ.

Sigmon, R. (1979). Service-learning: Three principles. Synergist, 8(1).


Indicators of Effective Service-Learning Collaboration A1-A3
Program Planning Form A4
Sample Service-Learning Agreement A5-A6
Sample Placement Confirmation and Mutual Expectations Agreement A7
Needs Overlap Analysis Exercise A8-A9
Community Service-Learning Job Description Form A10
K-14 Collaboration Items:
Dual Enrollment Course Plan A11-A13
Teacher Recertification Course Description A14-A17
Agency Packet Index A18
Agency Review Sheet A19
Letter of Understanding for PartnershipA20
Program Expectations A21-A22
Agency Questionnaire A23-A24

Roger K. Henry
Brevard Community College