Service-Learning: A Win-Win-Win Solution
DCTC students teach fifth graders at Red Pine Elementary
During spring semester 2013, 20 students at Dakota County Technical College participated in a service-learning project in partnership with Red Pine Elementary School in Eagan, Minn. The students were enrolled in the College Reading course taught by Patrick Chaussee, an adjunct instructor at the college. Also known as ENGL 0114, the College Reading course is designed to develop the effective reading and clear thinking skills that students need to thrive in a collegiate environment. The project paired DCTC students with Red Pine fifth graders.
Chaussee got the idea for the service-learning project after attending a seminar held by Katie Halcrow, director of service-learning at Inver Hills Community College. He immediately saw service-learning as a way for his students to learn by teaching. He also knew he had little working knowledge on how to set up a service-learning project. Luckily, Halcrow is a virtual encyclopedia on the various aspects of service-learning and community engagement. Her program at Inver has all the bells and whistles, including a checklist for service-learners and a quicklist of potential community partners. Once Chaussee determined the basics of what he wanted to do, Halcrow provided her expertise to guide him through the process.
“I knew Gary Anger, the principal at Red Pine, and gave him a call to share my idea,” Chaussee recalled. “I left a message and he called back right away. He was very excited and said, ‘Let’s figure this out.’ Katie jumped in and was instrumental in getting the project up and running.”
For Red Pine, the collaboration represented an ideal opportunity to inspire fifth graders and increase their desire to learn. At the outset of the project, Principal Anger came to the DCTC campus in Rosemount, Minn., to meet with the DCTC students involved in the project and formulate a game plan. The students spelled out the requirements of their mission:
- Teach reading and comprehension
- Be a good role model
- Have a good time
- Answer questions
- Motivate their students to learn more
“We are always looking for ways to impact our students positively,” said Anger, who has been Red Pine’s principal for 10 years. “People don’t know just how diverse our student population is. That diversity was reflected by the DCTC students who came to our school. We would love to continue and expand the project in the future.”
Chaussee, a former K–12 special education teacher, echoed the principal’s enthusiasm. “At first, many of my students were anxious about the project,” he said. “By the end of the project, many had not only bonded with their fifth-grade students, but also with their fellow college students. Class participation increased and most reported that they improved their own learning process through teaching. We want to expand the project to include students in writing classes taught by Brett Kolles, another English instructor at DCTC.”
What is service-learning?
Service-learning merges academics with community service. Service-learning projects can involve an entire class or just one student, but projects of any size always promote civic engagement while strengthening the learning process. For Katie Halcrow, service-learning is a triple-win solution. She noted that students benefit by practicing and validating the skills they will bring to their future occupations; the college benefits by providing students access to a dynamic, real-world educational experience; the community partner benefits by getting needed work accomplished.
Halcrow, who has an M.F.A. in creative writing from Hamline University, an M.A. in Germanic Languages and literature from Ohio State, and a B.A. in mathematics and German from Wake Forest, gave Chaussee the structure he needed to deliver a powerful service-learning experience, the kind that fosters personal satisfaction as well as a lifelong commitment to community service and civic responsibility.
“For students and faculty, a project typically has three phases,” Halcrow said. “Preflection before the project begins, reflection as the project unfolds and postflection at the project’s conclusion. DCTC academic programs are replete with service-learning possibilities. The people I’ve worked with at DCTC have been fabulous and I look forward to working with more DCTC faculty and staff on future projects. The college is poised to expand service-learning in a meaningful way.”
The Red Pine perspective
Kate Stoe has been an elementary school teacher for 27 years, 17 of those years teaching fifth grade at Red Pine Elementary. She pointed out that her school, which was built in 1995, has about 1,000 K–5 students.
“I love teaching,” she said. “Technology has changed since I started, but kids are kids. They want to try to do the right thing. At Red Pine, we teach our children to be respectful and responsible. We emphasize character development.”
Fifth graders were selected for the project based on their reading fluency and comprehension skills. “We use data and graphing to chart progress,” Stoe said. “We chose students who were on the bubble and needed extra one-on-one support.”
When the DCTC students showed up at Red Pine, the fifth graders served as greeters and escorts. Everyone was a little nervous in the beginning, but by the end of the first visit relationships had been forged. “My students were really looking forward to the next visit,” Stoe said. “They were very enthusiastic. We are definitely looking at expanding the project to include writing along with reading fluency and comprehension.”
DCTC student perspectives
Branko Tambah, 36, is from Kakata, aka Kak City, a transit town in the rubber plantation district of Liberia, a country of 3.7 million people in West Africa. He is majoring in Civil Engineering Technology at DCTC. He is also a DCTC student ambassador. Before earning permanent resident status in the United States, Tambah worked in general construction and as a logistician assistant at the United Nations in his home country.
“My goal is to earn my A.A.S. degree and find work as a civil engineering technician—hopefully with the U.N.,” he said. According to ISEEK, Minnesota’s job, education and career resource, civil engineering technician ranks as one of the high-demand STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) careers in the state. “I am grateful to the U.S. government for this opportunity. I am the first person in my family to go to college.”
Tambah reported that his fifth grader, a girl named Bella, was outspoken and fun to be around. “I learned through teaching—and that is very important to me,” he said. “I believe there are many skills you can learn through teaching.”
“We both benefited from the project,” Tambah added. “Bella enjoyed reading out loud and understood the concept of what we were doing by the second visit. By our third visit, she was recognizing sentence patterns and seeing the main idea of what we were reading. She was an amazing student. I told her about college and she said she wants to be a teacher. Bella wants to give back to her community. We became friends.”
Kate Stoe on Branko Tambah: “Branko was the most impressive tutor. He was the one that would stay ten to fifteen minutes past everyone else to write me a detailed note about Bella. I loved that he discussed life dreams and future plans with her.”
The culture of Liberia is reflected in Tambah’s devotion to his family, which includes a mother, father, nine brothers and three sisters back in West Africa. Because of his career and collegiate success, Tambah has gladly taken an elder son’s role in guiding and protecting his family. He is married and resides in Eagan, Minn., with his wife, Josephine, who was a registered nurse in Liberia and is now a certified nursing assistant, or CNA, in Minnesota on track to become an RN once again. The couple has three children, Mary, 6, James, 5, and Everetta, 18 months.
A native of Chicago, Ill., Deangelas Cook, 35, is busy earning an A.A.S. degree in Networking Administration. His goal is simple and direct: Get a job. “Going to college is something different for me,” Cook said. “I’ve never done anything like this before. I’ve worked at a lot of different jobs and sometimes it’s been a challenge. Going to DCTC gives me the best feeling. I enjoy it every day—just being here.”
Cook made a smart move when he chose networking administration as a career field. According to ISEEK, network and computer systems administrators make on average more than $35 an hour, which is well above the statewide average. The career outlook is even more promising, showing an 18.6 percent increase in jobs by 2020, which also beats the average across Minnesota.
Cook instantly liked the idea of participating in the service-learning project. “I learned a lot from the project,” he said. “I had two students, both boys, Antonio and Zach—and they were both really cool.”
One of the boys wrote his own stories, which Cook found quite remarkable for an 11-year-old. “It was a joy to be around kids who want to learn,” Cook said. “Watching them, I remembered what it was like when I was that age, just hanging out. I’m glad I could help inspire them to think about college. Now that I’m in college, I wake up every morning at 5 a.m. just happy to be going to school.”
Kate Stoe on Deangelas Cook: “Deangelas had quite a presence about him. After the first week, many of the kids wanted to work with him. He is so confident and he quickly developed an easy and fun relationship with the kids he worked with.”
Cook is single and resides in Hastings, Minn., with his 6-year-old daughter, Kahnaiya.
For more information about service-learning or how to get a service-learning project off the ground, contact:
- Katie Halcrow
Director of Service-Learning
Inver Hills Community College