From Service-Learning Wiki
Service-learning projects work best when they include diverse partners, such as youth, educators, families, community members, community-based organizations, and/or businesses. Service-learning partners collaborate to establish a shared vision and set common goals to address community needs. Good communication among partners is vital throughout the project as they develop and implement action plans to meet specified goals and share knowledge and understanding of school and community assets and needs.
Partnerships is one of the eight K-12 Service-Learning Standards for Quality Practice. The standards and accompanying indicators were released by NYLC in 2008.
In a critique of service-learning practice, Brown (2001) observed that many projects are constructed in “relative isolation” and “tend to be primarily concerned with individual student educational outcomes.... The benefits to community are often secondary concerns” (p. 4).
Such an approach fails to capitalize on the benefits students gain from working with community partners. Obviously, community organizations have resources and technical capacity that most schools lack. Also, local organizations provide expertise on local issues. This point is essential, as “many educators [feel] they could determine community needs themselves, without the help of partners” (Bailis and Melchior, 2004). Partnerships are particularly useful in helping educators to respond to the needs of their culturally and linguistically diverse students (Carnegie Foundation, 1988). Similarly, partnerships can play a crucial role in presenting youth with adult role models or mentors — a key component of successful service-learning projects. Positive relationships with caring adult mentors has been associated with reduction in risky behaviors and increased academic performance and attendance (Neal et al., 2009).
Establishing the value of partnerships is but one step toward flourishing collaboration, however. A number of obstacles must be navigated first. Fundamentally, schools and agencies represent two radically different cultures. Often, community partners become frustrated by schools that are inflexible and bureaucratic. Schools and their partners approach the relationship from different places with different goals, priorities, capacities, and needs (Roehlkepartain and Bailis, 2007), and while organizations define success by the accomplishment of certain tasks, schools determine success as meeting particular academic standards. Such cultural differences mean that partnerships can be time-consuming to form, and they take knowledge, interpersonal skills, and resources to sustain (Bailis and Melchior, 2004). If not done well, partnerships for service-learning can discourage participants, thus undermining the impact of the service-learning effort (Roehlkepartain and Bailis, 2007).
How do schools and their partners tap into benefits of partnerships while at the same time avoiding pitfalls? Good channels of communication are a prerequisite. Schools and organizations do not necessarily need to share goals, but they need to communicate them clearly. Schools should communicate their definition of service-learning and the academic and curricular standards for which they are held accountable. Similarly, community partners need to communicate the mission of their organization and their capacity to provide service-learning opportunities (Abravanel, 2003).
Building from such an understanding, enduring partnerships are easier to accomplish. The best partnerships go beyond individual projects. Sustained partnerships result in better experiences for students, better community outcomes, and richer learning. Ideally, they are based on a “program” model with individual projects carried out within the program (Brown, 2001). Youth voice is another central component, since an effective service-learning partnership is not just a partnership between institutions; it is also a partnership between young people and adults, generating benefits both in schools and the community as youth take on adult roles and responsibilities (Roehlkepartain and Bailis, 2007).
As partnerships mature, they build social capital for organizations, schools, and students alike. As a result of collaboration, members build feelings of trust and mutual understanding and networks that boost their ability to accomplish further public work and to sustain better communities.
- Partnerships Build Healthy Communities. The Generator, Spring 2009 (vol. 27, no. 1) St. Paul: National Youth Leadership Council.