Background of Service Learning and Community Engagement at Kingsborough Community College
Kingsborough Community College (KCC) is part of the City University of New York system of colleges, and is located in Brooklyn, New York. Kingsborough’s President, Dr. Regina Peruggi, is an enthusiastic supporter of community engagement and service learning. Because of this, Kingsborough’s community-based service learning program has flourished. In 2007, Kingsborough was placed on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, which recognizes colleges and universities throughout the United States that support innovative and effective community engagement and service learning programs. One of the most active community engagement programs at Kingsborough is run by our Mental Health and Human Services Program. This program has been a vital and growing major since its inception over 25 years ago. At present, the program enrolls approximately 325 mental health human services students, the majority of whom proceed to earn their bachelors and masters degrees in human services, social work, psychology, and other related professions. There are two distinct pathways to community engagement for mental health and human services students: 1) a service learning option is offered in all mental health and human services courses; and, 2) mental health and human services students are required to spend two semesters in field placement sites.
Some of our field placements include domestic violence shelters, nursing homes, programs for people with developmental disabilities, psychiatric day treatment centers, and, most recently, community advocacy programs. The first community advocacy field placement site, called Strategic Neighborhood Advocacy Program, was located in a Brooklyn storefront. At this agency, students were involved with community residents in expanding a vocational training outreach and infant mortality reduction program. Based on the success of this field placement, mental health and human services students may now elect to participate in a student-run domestic violence outreach program. The bulk of this article is a description of this domestic violence outreach program and describes what we have learned from empowering students to organize and implement their own program. In addition, I will show how our experience has led us to change the way we conceptualize service learning at Kingsborough.
Creation of the Domestic Violence Outreach Program
There were several factors that ultimately lead to the creation of our student-run domestic violence outreach program. First of all, many of our students come from inner city communities and have a strong desire to help improve the quality of life in their communities. This desire to bring about positive change is apparently growing among college students from all walks of life. For example, in 2005, the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) reported that two-thirds of entering college students believe that it is very important to help others, which is the highest percentage in the last 25 years. Not only do college students do “nice” things when they volunteer, they do necessary things to help build and improve their communities, especially in times of crisis (www.nationalservice.gov/honorroll). Secondly, faculty members were also beginning to recognize the importance of contributing to the college and local communities, and the many benefits students receive from participating in community service. There is a long history in education of emphasizing learning by doing or experiential learning (Dewey, 1937; Reich, 1994; as cited in Wolf & Laurier, 2006, p.2). The application of faculty and student capital to address community needs is re-establishing itself as part of the public mission of higher education. Community-based solutions using service learning students is an important structure for community revitalization. At the same time, the quality of student learning and a sense of civic responsibility in students are also enhanced (Winchell & Ponder, 2007). A final factor that led to the creation of our student-run domestic violence outreach program was that faculty had already begun tossing around the idea of creating a field placement in the area of prevention to give students experience in this vital area.
While our faculty members were considering ideas for a new prevention-focused field placement, we received a call from Joseph Samalin, a Brooklyn-based Domestic Violence Outreach Coordinator. Mr. Samalin’s ultimate goal was to educate high school and college students about domestic violence, and he wanted to do this by recruiting student volunteers he could train as peer educators. We recognized that Joe Samalin was offering us exactly the opportunity we had been looking for. We saw the potential of an interesting and valuable experience for our students in a site that we had never previously explored: our college campus. We recognized that this experience could also empower students to make a difference in their families and local communities.
In the fall semester of 2005, the Mental Health and Human Services Program established a community advocacy field placement in which students could earn required credits towards their major while working on campus and in the surrounding community to educate peers about domestic violence. The students decided to name this program A.C.E. (Awareness, Courage and Empowerment).
The structure of A.C.E. is unique, in that the students create and run their own agency, as opposed to the traditional service learning model where students are placed in an existing agency and are primarily supervised by agency staff. The decision to empower students by turning the running of A.C.E. over to them was the natural next step in the evolution of my philosophy of teaching. For a long time, building upon the ideas of humanistic psychology, I had sought to empower students in my classes by validating their strengths, encouraging them to develop and express their own ideas and take responsibility for their own learning. I had found that this approach provides an environment that liberates and empowers students to become self-reliant and self-initiating (Guigno, under review). In the A.C.E. program, I serve simply as a consultant. A.C.E. students are given the responsibility for creating and running the program. This strategy has unleashed a flood of student enthusiasm, creativity, commitment to empowering others, and professional growth. I have also found that a model which is based on student empowerment is ideally suited to domestic violence outreach. Our students provide information to teens and young adults about domestic violence. In addition, by running A.C.E. themselves, they model empowerment which helps teach young people to not let other people control them. Our faculty does recognize that A.C.E. does not conform to the traditional service learning model. However, we believe that A.C.E. truly captures the intent of community-based service learning, which is to provide students with the opportunity to learn while contributing to their communities. In fact, we believe that for some students, it is a more effective and empowering community-based learning experience than the traditional service learning model.
Student Learning Objectives
A.C.E. is built upon a modified community-based service learning model – a model which has repeatedly been shown to enhance student learning outcomes. Community-based service learning not only meets identified community needs, but also places students in a position where they can reflect on community service in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility (Bringle & Hatcher, 1996). Key actors in Harvard’s service learning program (Project Zero) noted that although “the acquisition and retention of knowledge certainly serve important purposes, knowledge does not come into its own until the learner can deploy it with understanding” (Perkins & Unger, 1999; as cited in Smith & Brooks, 2006, p. 1). This, in a nutshell, is exactly what service learning does. Effectively demonstrating how theoretical concepts and principles apply to the real world is not only an estimable goal for educational professionals, it is also crucial to the intellectual and civic development of students. Instructors empower students to maximize learning when students proficiently apply key disciplinary concepts to their individual lives and to larger social issues (Smith & Brooks, 2006).
The student learning objectives for A.C.E. are multifaceted and are directly focused on preparing students for work in the helping professions. First, students will understand the importance of community involvement in human services education programs. Second, students will understand and appreciate the value of utilizing a community advocacy and prevention approach and will gain the basic skills to do so. Third, students will attain an understanding of the dynamics of running a successful community-based program (organizational structure, planning, division of labor, record keeping, collaboration, research, operating within the guidelines of a bureaucracy, fundraising). Fourth, students will learn how to evaluate program effectiveness, identifying strengths and successes of the program as well as any problems or issues that need to be addressed. Fifth, students will understand the humanistic principle of empowerment, both for themselves as student leaders of the program and for the young people they serve. Sixth, students will acquire the tools necessary to replicate the A.C.E. model in other colleges or professional settings. In addition to the very concrete academic and career objectives just discussed, I believe that there are two additional, more general learning objectives that are achieved by many A.C.E. students. First, the A.C.E. experience helps students learn to take a more proactive role in their education motivating them to take initiative and seek new knowledge as needed. Second, participating in A.C.E. gives many students the opportunity to find meaning in their lives. A number of research studies have investigated the need for college students to find purpose, meaning, and a sense of vocation during their university years as they reflect on possible careers and future directions for their lives (Chartrand & Camp, 1991; Csikszentmihalyi & Schneider, 2000; Dreher, under review; Johnson, Beebe, Mortimer, & Synder, 1998; as cited in Mills, Bersamina, & Plante, 2007, p.1). Also, Cathy Ludlum Foos of Indiana University East, whose research focuses on the ethical and political implications of service learning, notes the rise of the concept of citizenship in higher education. Foos also notes that service learning helps students develop the personal qualities that will allow them to make choices that take into account the well-being of others (van der Ryn, 2007).
Selection of Students for Placement in the A.C.E. Program
Each semester, approximately ten students are accepted into the A.C.E. program. Each student selected must have exhibited an interest in the fields of domestic violence and community advocacy. Faculty also make an effort to choose a group that is culturally diverse. Past groups have been made up of a mix of Caucasians, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Eastern Europeans, and students from the Caribbean. The students have also spoken several languages including English, Spanish, Creole, French, Mandarin, Cantonese, Arabic, Urdu, Farsi, and Russian. Attempts to recruit both males and females and students in different age groups have been made. Since its inception, A.C.E. students have ranged between the ages of 18 and 45, and, while females have predominated, each group has included at least two males. Each A.C.E. student brings with them experiences from their own cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds which influence their own perceptions and understanding of domestic violence and dating violence. For example, one student was a 19-year-old who had never dated seriously while another was in her mid thirties and married with a child at home. Some A.C.E. students have had direct experience with domestic violence themselves, while others have had strictly academic exposure to the problem.
In preparation for participation in A.C.E., students are required to attend a ten-hour domestic violence workshop hosted by Joseph Samalin. In this workshop, students are first introduced to the different forms of domestic violence – physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, and financial. Then, they learn how to effectively educate potential victims by highlighting warning signs of an abusive relationship, and learn about cycles of behavior that can potentially lead to physical violence. Students also learn about the legal rights of the victims and the overwhelming prevalence of some form of abuse among both married couples and dating adolescents. Finally, the students learn how one can avoid unhealthy relationships and nourish healthy ones. Upon the completion of the training, the students are prepared to pass on this knowledge to the community.
Student Action – Informing the Public, the White Ribbon Campaign, and Partnerships
Once the students have finished the training component of the program, they begin working actively in A.C.E. They serve as the board of directors and implement ideas in the mold of a not-for-profit corporation. Each semester is intended to be unique. Each new group of students is required to design and implement their own outreach efforts and is given creative freedom to do this, while also building on what previous classes have done. This approach has proven to be highly successful over the last three years, and students have engaged in a wide range of activities such as Internet-based domestic violence outreach, instructional videotapes, and presentations at colleges and schools throughout New York City.
A.C.E. students have also utilized activities such as setting up information tables around the Kingsborough campus to help educate their fellow students. There, they distribute information regarding the frequency of dating violence, warning signs, hotline numbers, names and addresses of counseling centers that provide support for victims of domestic violence, and how to create an effective safety plan. An integral part of educating potential victims of domestic violence is to teach them about the importance of a safety plan, as this can be a lifesaving strategy. Safety plans consist of elements such as a cell phone programmed to dial ‘911’ when any button is pushed, a planned escape route, having a bag with clothing, important papers, and money in a safe place so that a quick getaway can be made if violence escalates, and creating an agreed upon emergency signal with friends or neighbors when the person is in danger.
Each semester, A.C.E. students also design and run programs. The following is a synopsis of several student-created A.C.E. projects, some of which are ongoing:
- The White Ribbon Campaign: As participants in this campaign, members of A.C.E. approach and encourage high school and college-aged students to take “The Oath.” This oath is a pledge that each student wearing the white ribbon promises not to participate directly or condone any type of domestic or dating abuse.
- Internet-based Outreach: The students created their own My Space Internet page with information on domestic violence and how to contact A.C.E.
- Cell Phone Campaign: Students from A.C.E. negotiated a partnership with a cellular communications company. A.C.E. students went to many different classes and departments on the Kingsborough campus and asked students and faculty to donate used cell phones. Students also visited other areas in the community, such as churches and local police and fire departments, and also posted flyers in local stores. At the end of the semester, over 500 phones were collected to be redistributed to people living in domestic violence situations.
- Toys for Children in Domestic Violence Shelters: During the holiday season of 2006, students asked members of the Kingsborough and the Brooklyn communities to donate toys for children in domestic violence shelters. Well over 200 toys were collected and donated.
- Instructional Videotapes: A.C.E. students created several instructional videotapes illustrating the warning signs of domestic/dating abuse which were shown in Kingsborough classes, local health care fairs, and professional conferences. Plans are currently underway to show these videos in to local elementary and high schools.
- Partnership with Substance Abuse Counseling Program: Because substance abuse and domestic violence often occur together, A.C.E. partnered with Kingsborough’s substance abuse counseling program to create jointly run workshops.
- Poster Campaign: A.C.E. students organized a poster campaign to raise awareness of domestic violence. Students throughout the campus and their families submitted posters which will be displayed throughout the campus in the spring of 2009.
Domestic Violence Conferences and Awards
In addition to raising awareness and providing information to high school and college-age students, A.C.E. members are also actively involved in presenting information on domestic violence and the A.C.E. model to the professional community. Most recently, A.C.E. students were invited to participate in a domestic violence awareness conference sponsored by the Urban Resource Institute, a New York City community outreach organization dedicated to helping victims of domestic violence. A.C.E. students were invited because of their unique perspective and insight regarding domestic violence victims. The intention of the conference was to raise awareness for mental health professionals and other people in the local community about the frustration and trauma that domestic violence victims go through. The A.C.E. presentation, entitled “How to Prevent Domestic Violence,” included students relaying their own experiences in A.C.E. and demonstrated to the audience the early warning signs of domestic violence.
Many of the students who performed in the presentation are themselves victims of domestic violence. As victims, these students not only add credibility to the presentation, but also, as many have reported, this has given them an opportunity to resolve their own personal feelings about the abuse they have suffered. Students have reported to faculty that they no longer feel alone and instead have a sense of empowerment. One A.C.E. student appreciated that the conference touched all the dynamics of domestic violence. Another student stated that participating in the conference was phenomenal–very inspiring, truly uplifting, and educational in purpose, and that conferences of this type should be mandated on all college campuses.
Audience feedback on this presentation was highly favorable, and as a result, we have since repeated the presentation a number of times in other venues. One social worker who was at the conference commented that she had to leave the room for some parts of the presentation because it was heartbreaking seeing a survivor discuss her experiences. Students and professionals approached A.C.E. students and faculty to express their gratitude and appreciation. Some wrote letters of thanks. For example, one said “I want to thank you, because I didn’t realize I was a victim of domestic violence until I saw your presentation.” This sentiment was echoed by many others, including a member of the media who was covering the conference. Another student wrote to the group that “seeing the presentation was like a flashback to a past relationship. The highlight of the presentation was when the information on a safety plan was presented to me.” The feedback we received also led us to a very important discovery. Although the target population for A.C.E.’s presentations was initially young females, we soon learned that our program was reaching abusers, as well. At first, we were surprised when young males came up to us and expressed shock to realize that they were abusers. Many of these young men said that they had always thought that because they did not hit their girlfriends, they were not abusive. However, as a result of watching the presentation, they recognized that they engage in other forms of abuse such as verbal, emotional, or financial abuse. This experience has led us to broaden our target population to include all young people.
The A.C.E. presentation has proven to be so successful that the A.C.E. students have been asked to speak at several public schools around the New York City area, at health fairs, and in other local colleges. Also, the A.C.E. students have also been presenters at several national conferences, such as The National Organization for Human Services 2006 annual conference in San Diego and at the 2007 annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Students were also invited to present their domestic violence prevention dramatization at the New England Organization of Human Services Education.
The A.C.E. program has also received two awards. In June of 2006, A.C.E. students were invited to attend a fund-raising event hosted by a prominent domestic violence organization, held in Battery Park Gardens, New York. At this event, A.C.E. students were recognized for their contributions and efforts towards reducing the risk of teen domestic violence. Most recently, A.C.E. received the Kingsborough Community College President’s Faculty Innovation Award of $4,500.
A.C.E. Program Evaluation
According to Anderson (1999; as cited in Wolf & Laurier, 2006, p. 2), there are several principles for effective service learning programs. First, outcomes for service learning should be aligned with curricular goals and standards. Service learning programs should also be theoretically grounded in disciplinary knowledge. In addition, all stakeholders in the program should be included in its design, implementation and assessment, and should have clearly defined roles and responsibilities. Finally, the program should include frequent and varied opportunities for service providers to engage in reflection, and the pedagogy of service learning should be explicitly taught so that it will be utilized in practice. These principles have been the foundation upon which A.C.E. was built, and also for our ongoing evaluation of A.C.E.’s effectiveness.
In our ongoing evaluation of A.C.E., we consider both the effectiveness of A.C.E. outreach programs and also the question of whether or not the student learning objectives described above were met. Our evaluation of program effectiveness includes several components: 1) brief surveys for assessing participants’ responses to A.C.E. presentations; 2) tracking the number of “hits” on the student-created website and a qualitative analysis of website visitor comments; 3) debriefing sessions after presentations to see what went well and what could be improved; and, 4) tracking the number of inquiries received. Several measures are also used to evaluate whether student learning objectives are met: 1) a pre- and post- A.C.E. questionnaire used to measure student self-efficacy; 2) class attendance, grades, and participation; 3) the student’s self-assessment of their own performance and the performance of other students in the course; and, 4) a detailed analysis of student feedback in their required reflection papers. It should be noted that reflection is a key component, both for evaluating whether student learning objectives were met and also for helping students to conceptualize and synthesize what they have learned in the service learning experience. When students participate in quality service activities – that is, when they are given the opportunity to shape their activities and reflect on their experiences – they are more likely to demonstrate positive civic attitudes and behaviors (Hedin, 1989; as cited at www.nationalservice.gov).
As previously mentioned, an analysis of student feedback was an important component in determining whether or not A.C.E. met student learning objectives. Over the past three years, students involved in the A.C.E. program have helped inform and support teenagers, parents, and professionals. Presently, they are working towards broadening their horizons by extending their efforts over the entire New York City area. In addition to having a significant impact on the community, students also have an opportunity to learn within an enriched environment, develop and practice professional skills, and increase their self-esteem and self-confidence. Several students have been given job opportunities as a result of their participation in the A.C.E. program. Direct student quotes provide valuable feedback and capture the essence of the A.C.E. program. The following are the students’ own words, grouped by general subject headings.
Meaningful and Important Learning Experiences
“Being involved in the program is one of the most meaningful and important learning experiences that I have had in my academic career.”
“Participating in A.C.E. allowed me to help my sister. Her husband was abusing her. Together she and I created a safety plan for her and I felt so good that I was able to help!”
“I was a victim of domestic violence and participating in this program for a semester helped me more than all of the years I spent in therapy.”
“I wanted to thank you for empowering me with the knowledge that helped me with the biggest choice of my life. I just left my husband. He was very abusive to my children and me for years. Words can’t express my feelings. Keep up the good work.”
“A.C.E. provided me with much insight”.
“I came to the realization that domestic violence is a big problem among young adults, and that many people are ignorant about domestic violence.”
“It was great that Professor Guigno was in a guidance role, there to listen, and that the students were able to make decisions by themselves as the board of directors.”
Self-Esteem and Confidence Builder
“Being able to make a difference and being taken seriously as a professional has increased my self-esteem and has given me the confidence I need to begin my career.”
“I became more self-confident about presenting what I believe. Seeing all the compliments and positive feedback made me feel stronger and I thought of myself that I can do anything, and I can accomplish anything I want.”
“Each time I tell someone about A.C.E. or refer them to a number of resources my heart swells with pride and hope. Each time I present information with my co-workers I leave knowing that there is someone that will take our message to heart and spread our words of encouragement and wisdom.”
“I feel that every time we leave a classroom we could have saved a life, gave someone the information on how to get help or stopped a person from entering a dangerous relationship.”
“After every presentation someone is left crying or trying very hard to get information about domestic violence, which leads me to believe that either they are in a domestic violence situation or know someone who is. I know after every presentation I’ve saved a life.”
“Nothing describes the feeling of knowing that I changed someone’s life. It made me feel very important to know that people actually cared about what I said and they actually wanted to listen.”
This feedback demonstrates the general positive outcomes for students when utilizing a service learning model: increased self-awareness, increased self-confidence and professional competence, linkage of concepts being taught in coursework to real situations, and career exploration (Fiume, Basile, Ednie, Guigno, & Habersaat, 2006).
In the three years of A.C.E.’s existence, we have learned a number of useful lessons about creating a student-run domestic violence outreach program. One of the first things we learned was the importance of establishing a partnership with at least one outside agency working in the field of domestic violence. In our case, we established ongoing partnerships with Day One and the Urban Resource Institution. We found that A.C.E. students learned a lot about advocacy, organizational structure, research, and running special events from exposure to these two agencies. The agencies also provided A.C.E. with credibility and opportunities for student training. We have also learned that partnering with other departments at Kingsborough, such as the Center for Women and Non-Traditional Students and our substance abuse counseling program, is a way of reaching out to a larger, more diverse audience and also enhances student collaborative skills. Therefore, in the future, we plan to establish additional partnerships with other departments at Kingsborough and organizations in the community in order to obtain the the benefits of collaboration, and the resources needed to hire guest speakers and run workshops on domestic violence for larger audiences.
We also learned that there is an inherent power in teens educating teens about their own travails, as opposed to hearing information from authority figures in a bureaucratic framework. Evidence of this is seen both in the overwhelmingly positive response from female members of our audience and the fact that some young male members of our audiences have been moved to recognize that they are abusers. Therefore, I feel that it is important to not only encourage other faculty and professionals to create domestic violence prevention programs, but to remind them that their programs will be more effective if they train and encourage young adults and teens to take leadership roles.
Up until the present, funding for A.C.E. has been provided through the $4.500 Faculty Innovation Award we received. However, we have recognized the need for an ongoing source of funding. This is necessary if A.C.E. is to continue to grow and to use creative approaches to domestic violence outreach. Students plan to create an Ebay account to use for fundraising and will market small items such as magnets, candles, bracelets and key chains imprinted with the A.C.E. logo and information about the warning signs of domestic abuse. Students also plan to raise money through bake sales and car washes and other events. We have learned that A.C.E. is a highly effective model that can be replicated in other educational settings to address domestic violence issues and other social problems. First of all, we plan to expand A.C.E. to address the issues of teen pregnancy and substance abuse. Several colleges have contacted A.C.E. with the intention of imitating this service learning and domestic violence model, and A.C.E. students and faculty have already begun training others to utilize the A.C.E. approach. We sincerely want to share our model with as many organizations as possible. Based on this desire to help others replicate A.C.E., A.C.E. students plan to establish a group of A.C.E. alumni (former A.C.E. students) who will work towards bringing the A.C.E. model to other institutions as they move forward with their education.
The A.C.E. experience has shown us how deep rooted the problem of domestic violence is and how great a need there is to increase awareness of this problem. The response of mental health and human services students to A.C.E. and the enthusiasm and interest it has generated has demonstrated to us that there is a need for more coursework and training in the area of domestic violence. As a result, we have created a new concentration in domestic violence that will be offered to mental health and human services students at Kingsborough beginning in the fall of 2009. We are developing courses for this new concentration in conjunction with local domestic violence agencies so that this concentration will provide career opportunities for our students.
Underlying the pedagogy of service learning is the belief that a central mission of civic education is to produce active, engaged citizens (Delli-Carpini & Keeter, 2000). A.C.E. is an example of a community advocacy model that other human service programs may want to consider replicating. Dating-violence prevention programs need to be incorporated into systems and institutions serving youth, including schools, recreational programs, juvenile justice programs, and the foster care system. Schools are particularly well positioned to develop a comprehensive response to teen dating violence with such components as community collaboration, education, and prevention programs, as well as treatment for perpetrators and support services to victims (O’Keefe, 2005). This is exhibited through A.C.E., which provides students with the opportunity to become empowered as they give back to their community and participate in a crucial prevention effort that engages fellow college students and high school students. A.C.E. projects have helped educate and engage community members in this pilot project to prevent domestic violence.
In the 1890’s, educator Seth Low went beyond posing and answering the question “knowledge for what?” by calling on students to become engaged directly with the city and its communities and people. Low stated that engagement with, and study and action in, New York City would produce educated, prepared, and moral students, as well as significant contributions to knowledge. Low linked town and gown, identifying a mutually beneficial, interactive relationship between his university and the city as crucial to intellectual and institutional advancement (Harkavy, 2000). In the same vein, in collaboration with an established New York City based outreach program, but simultaneously displaying complete autonomy, Kingsborough Community College’s A.C.E. students were able to achieve a multitude of goals as they developed their version of a domestic violence prevention program.
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About the Author:
Charles Guigno, Ed.D., MHC, Assistant Professor, Kingsborough Community College, The City University of New York. Charles Guigno is a tenured Assistant Professor in the Mental Health and Human Services Program at Kingsborough Community College, and an internship supervisor. In addition to his academic responsibilities, he is also the faculty advisor for Mental Health Club. Prof. Guigno received his Second Masters degree and Doctorate in Family and Community Education from Teacher’s College, Columbia University. He has extensive experience working as a community advocate.
Phone:718-368-5195; Email: email@example.com