As SVLs move along the service-learning continuum, they will serve as leaders to mobilize other students to join them in service and civic action. As discussed, the model centers around connecting students to an issue. Researching the issue, and determining how to effectively connect students to the issue, is key to the success of this service-learning model.
Research, Define, and Know the Issue
The following checklist can help you get started with researching, identifying, and learning about your issue:
- Alter egos: You may know your issue as "Public School Restoration"; others may call it "Urban School Revitalization," or something related to addressing the resource gap in the public school system. Get to know all the names that your issue might go by, and all the major subheadings that go along with it, so that you can quickly identify your issue as you are conducting research (formally or informally) on the topic.
- Related issues: Be aware of the other important issues and topics that are often related to your issue.
- Organizations, companies, people to know: Make note of organizations, locally and in the larger spectrum, that address your topic. Contact these organizations to ask for more information. Many have fliers or pamphlets of information that they mail out to interested parties.
- Make the connections: In your research of organizations, companies, and people to know, if you find a person or group that operates locally, it's a good idea to meet with them face-to-face; introduce yourself and let them know that you will be conducting service on the very issue for which they have expertise. They may be an ideal project partner or a source of information for volunteer orientation and issue education.
- On campus: Are there clubs, organizations, classes, or professors on campus that have addressed your issue? If so, go to them and make the connections in any way you can.
- Nothing official happening locally? Find more general service-oriented organizations, like Hands On Network organizations or volunteer centers, and connect with them on your issue topic. It’s possible they have touched on it in the past, or they may have statistics or research about your local community that can show you how you might connect the issue to your area. For example: if your topic is children and nutrition, look beyond the increased number of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch. Why has this number risen so drastically in the past few years? Maybe no one has made the connection between children's nutrition and the fact that the town’s largest factory closed down and, as a result, the unemployment rate in your community has spiked.
Utilizing the Issue Research
Once you have researched, identified, and learned about your issue, take the results of your research two steps further:
1. Place the issue into a global perspective. Find out what’s been going on recently around the world using the research you have already performed locally. Current events could include the creation of new (or change to existing) policies that affect the issue, or something as simple as a new documentary highlighting the issue.
2. Present the issue. By now you should have plenty of research information, and maybe even access to resources that can help you present your findings in an effective way. Prepare an action plan for how you are going to present the issue to inform your volunteers, students, and the broader community — one of the first steps in service-learning. Some ideas for presenting the issue include:
- Have a “movie night” during which you show a documentary or film that covers the issue.
- Prepare a packet of information, including pamphlets and a flier, to hand out to your volunteers. If there is a lot of information to cover, create a “friendly-read” fact sheet with bullet points you think are relevant (e.g., related current events, local connections, information about a partner organization).
- Host a panel discussion. Invite local leaders, representatives from any potential partner organizations, or even people who have been affected by the issue, to discuss your topic. You might invite just your volunteers, or you could make the event open to the public. Make sure you are prepared with specific questions for your panel; this will help your audience warm up to ask questions of their own.
- Assign your volunteers a few unique statistics, facts, or other relevant information about your topic. Over a dinner night, ask each person to tell the group about his or her assigned piece of information. Be ready with more discussion topics about the issue to address while you eat.
Applying the Knowledge
After the initial stages of presenting your volunteers with research and information about the issue, move your volunteers along the SVL Service-Learning continuum by helping them to do the following:
- Connect with the issue
- Recognize that they can do something about it
- Volunteer in the community
- Become engaged citizens who can apply their experiences on campus and in the community
SVL Service-Learning Model Activities and Templates
Click on each of the following links to access training and implementation tools that can help you effectively use reflection to guide student volunteer leaders along the service-learning model continuum: