Sarah Gould, Program Coordinator at the American Language and Culture Institute (ALCI), is running a pilot service-learning program with her students this semester. We chatted with her to find out more about the project, what the students are getting out of it, and whether the program will be continued next year.
Can you tell us a little bit about the class in general, and what the service-learning project is?
The decision was made to do a service-learning project with the ALCI students because we had students in classes that were the only student at their level, and they weren’t getting a chance to interact with classmates. This project is a way of bringing them together.
Upon researching different organizations and doing some group discussions and debates, they have come up with the idea of working with the Worcester Public Library.
First, we had an interview with a staff member there to learn about some of the challenges the library is facing, and then they worked together to determine what specific challenge they want to work on and create a project proposal.
The students decided to create a series of short videos to promote volunteering at the Worcester Public Library. They have each picked a role and will be responsible for carrying out related tasks. At this point, they will be taking the lead on all fronts of the project, and I will simply be guiding them.
Did the students think of their own list of organizations they could work with, or did you pick a list for them?
I want it to be from them and for them to make the calls as to what they do and who they work with, so I’ve approached that goal by having them do the research. A lot of them are very hesitant to go out into the Worcester community. It’s intimidating for them, and they don’t know how to approach organizations. I worked with the Community Engagement and Volunteering office at Clark and presented their database of organizations to the students for them to do the research and choose.
What do you think the students are getting out of the project?
First and foremost, it is a chance to bring those students who were the only student in their class together with other ESL students. For them, the class is really their chance to interact with other peers, which I think is important. Second, they are using their skills in a real-world context. Language classes tend to be very textbook-oriented, so I wanted them to be able to say that they did something that put the skills they used in class into a real-world scenario.
What has it been like to work with the Worcester Public Library?
I was lucky that one of the ESL faculty members, Nancye Araneo, has a close contact at the library, Katelyn Duncan. Katelyn is a librarian and the subject specialist for language learning materials and world languages collections, and leader of New Americans and English Learners work group—it was a perfect fit! She was amazing at welcoming the students to the library and I was really impressed with how she interacted with them. None of the students had ever been to the public library.
Katelyn is going to continue working with us and will be our community partner throughout the rest of the semester.
What have you learned by going through this process with your students?
Service-learning is a very familiar concept to me, but in meeting with the ALCI students I realized that I had to start from square one because they had no idea what service-learning was. They thought we were applying for jobs at first. I’ve learned that service-learning is not something that’s widely done outside of the US. None of my students have ever volunteered before.
Do you think the service-learning project will be part of the ALCI curriculum moving forward?
That’s the goal. Starting the project in the spring was a bit tricky because the students initially wanted to work with three organizations, but we won’t have time to do all three in one semester. It will be good to start in the fall and do it over the course of a year so we can work with more than one organization. It will also give them the opportunity to be out in the community even more. I hope it continues.