When High School and Graduate Students Collaborate in Learning and Service

Last night, I taught a joint class involving my Cross-Sectoral Governance graduate students and the Evans Community School Student Leadership Council students. Evans is a school in the Pine Hills community, not far outside downtown Orlando. It is a low-income community with significant social and economic challenges. Over the course of the semester, both groups of students will conduct research in order to identify gaps in the service need areas of food and clothing, after school programming and recreation, and parent employability and literacy skills training. Together, the students will make recommendations for how the Community School can help fill a gap in services, or partner strategically to fill the gaps.

Overall, the class last night was a highly rewarding experience for me, and I believe, for the students. In written reflections after the session, several Evans students expressed that they were surprised by the accessibility of UCF students, and UCF students expressed that they were surprised by the passion and intelligence of the Evans students.

The session proceeded as follows:

First, I facilitated introductions using a set of image cards I keep on hand for various facilitation needs. I asked each student–both UCF and Evans–to select an image card that represented their personal goal or ambition. The exercise worked better than anticipated, as both groups of students spoke of goals and ambitions that were common in their scope and impact. The two groups of students were able to recognize that, despite their different stations and points in life, they shared core values, challenges, and a fundamental belief in their own abilities. This recognition is the first step in creating an effective partnership: recognize what is common across groups, and begin to develop trust.

Second, I gave a brief overview of the Cross-Sectoral Governance class for the benefit of the Evans students, so that they would understand the work in which our graduate students are engaged. I closed this discussion with the metaphor of my crutch: if we don’t work together and communicate across differences effectively, we will be hobbled, and–as happened in reality with my crutch–we will move in circles without ever advancing. (Ask me, and I’ll tell you the story!).

Third, a team of Evans students, along with a school official, gave a brief presentation about Pine Hills, Evans, and the Student Leadership Council. They responded effectively to questions asked by the graduate students.

Last, students formed groups across Evans and UCF students to interview each other and suggest changes to a survey I drafted. The survey will be administered by Evans students to other Evans students, exploring student perception of food and clothing accessibility and sufficiency, after-school programming and recreation opportunities, and skills training for parents. This work will occur in parallel to interviews my students will conduct with government, nonprofit, and faith-based service providers in those same areas on concern.

The two classes will come together twice in the next couple of months for a conference call, in order to provide updates to each other on activity. They will re-convene in person in the last two weeks of the semester, with their final joint presentation to the community at the end of the semester.

This class builds on a similar arrangement I developed last year (see the paper reporting on this class, which will be presented at the 23rd International Conference on College Teaching and Learning in April).

I welcome your comments!

Published by Prof. dr. Thomas Bryer

Dr. Thomas Bryer is professor in the School of Public Administration at the University of Central Florida, Fulbright Scholar and Specialist, Professor at Kaunas University of Technology (Lithuania) and Visiting Professor Edge Hill University (United Kingdom).

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