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With Service-Learning, Students Address Real Needs in the Community

Submitted by on August 10, 2016 – 9:13 pm

These faculty are graduates of the Service Learning Faculty Fellows Program. Shown back left to right are Lance Hidy, Amy Cameron, Patricia Portanova, and Marc Mannheimer. Paula Richards, SLFF coordinator, is in front.

Thanks to the NECC Service-Learning Faculty Fellows Program (SLFF), Northern Essex Community College faculty are incorporating service-learning into their courses, giving students the opportunity to participate in community projects as part of their coursework.

This fall, 13 Northern Essex courses will include a service-learning component, meaning students in the class will receive assignments that connect directly with what they’re studying and fill needs within the community.

In past semesters, students have interviewed residents at the Haverhill Crossings Assisted Living Center in Haverhill and written senior biographies; conducted mandatory health screenings for students at the Esperanza Academy in Lawrence; and planned and facilitated story times at the Lawrence Public Library.

“Students discover that what they’re learning in the classroom can be used to help society,” said Janel D’Agata-Lynch, NECC’s civic engagement and service-learning coordinator.  “We want our students to learn to give back.”

Started in 2014, the NECC Service-Learning Faculty Fellows Program provides faculty, new to service learning, with the tools and support needed to add a service learning component to their own courses.  Since the program began, 24 faculty members have completed the training and most continue to include service-learning as part of their curriculum.

Lance Hidy, professor of graphic design, is a recent graduate of the Service-Learning Faculty Fellows Program, and he will introduce a service-learning component to his Computer Graphics course offered this fall.  Students in his class will partner with the Quarrybrook Outdoor Learning Center in Windham, NH, to create materials to market the hands-on inquiry based learning that takes place there.

Hidy, who has given his students service-learning assignments for many years, says his participation in the service-learning fellows program helped him “raise the bar.”  He’s developed a semester-long partnership between his students and the team of educators at Quarrybrook.  Students will visit the facility, explore the trails, and learn about the mission of the center.  They will then be asked to create learning materials, such as illustrations and captions about the local wildlife, for example.

“There is a satisfaction from helping an important community institution that transcends the usual classroom experience,” said Hidy.  “Pleasing the professor to get a good grade gradually becomes less important than helping the client achieve its goals.”

From the student perspective, Mohammed Antra of Lawrence, who participated in the Haverhill Crossings Assisted Living Center’s senior biography project, believes that “community service keeps the cycle of life moving forward.”

The project was designed to help students hone interviewing and note-taking skills, says Antra, and while that was accomplished, the takeaways went far beyond that.

Antra, a criminal justice major, was partnered with Bill Sable, a WWII veteran, who shared many stories including his close escape from death when his boat sank during the war.  After listening to his stories and asking questions, Antra wrote a paper, organizing Sable’s life experiences into the four seasons.  He had the project printed and framed and presented it to Sable.

Mohammed and his senior

Criminal Justice Student Mohammed Antra of Lawrence interviewed WWII veteran Bill Sable as part of a service learning project.

Two years ago, the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education recommended that colleges include civic learning and engagement as an expected learning outcome in public higher education.  Earlier this year, Northern Essex hired D’Agata-Lynch to help with this mission.

D’Agata-Lynch sees her role at the college as preparing students to be “engaged citizens”.  She says there are many opportunities for service at Northern Essex including service learning.

For a full list of courses offered this fall with a service-learning component, visit the website.  If you have questions about service learning at NECC, contact Janel D’Agata-Lynch, or 978-738-7530 or Paula Richards, SLFF coordinator, or 978-556-3209.  To learn more about service learning, visit the website.