I initially took a service-learning course because I was looking for an opportunity to apply what I was learning to real world situations, to make my learning more relevant. I also was looking for a more hands on learning experience where I would actually interact with people and systems rather than simply reading about them.
I’ve had the chance to take a few distinct kinds of service learning classes. Two of these involved tutoring students in Durham Public Schools, and two others involved conducting research for policy-makers in the county or state. In “Making Social Policy” with Jenni Owen, small groups of around three students each addressed a policy research question posed by a policy maker in the state, and spent the semester conducting research and generating a report for their client. My group researched funding options for a North Carolina pre-kindergarten program for the NC Early Childhood Advisory Council for the Governor’s Office. We learned about the battle over funding in the state, and were able to produce a report that was relevant to policy-makers. I gained a better understanding of the politics around early childhood education, and about how the state supreme court, the general assembly, and the governor influenced educational equality (or inequality, as it were).
Service learning experiences like my experience in Making Social Policy have shown me the importance of connecting research, policy, and the experiences of real people. Through my coursework and service opportunities, I’ve seen how each of these worlds informs the other, but also that it takes real effort to bridge them.