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The Service-Learning Assignment

The service-learning project to be explored in this chapter takes place in the Human Development and Family Studies Department at Purdue University, in an upper-division course for students majoring in Human Services. The course is entitled “Skills for Helping Professionals in Individual, Family, and Group Settings,” and it is designed to help students develop basic helping skills used by bachelor’s-level practitioners of human services (e.g., case managers, parent educators, youth development workers, etc.). These skills include non-verbal communication, active listening, asking questions, communicating empathy, setting goals, and so on.

A major requirement of the course is a multi-step, collaborative servicelearning project. The literature on service-learning effectiveness suggests that the strongest outcomes occur when service learning is clearly and closely tied to course content (Brownell & Swaner, 2010; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). Accordingly, this project is aligned with a segment of the course focusing on professional helping in a group context. Small student teams work together in partnership with a human services professional who provides services to groups. The objective of the project is for the students to plan one session or meeting of that group. Thus, the project requires that the students apply what they are learning about leading helping groups to the particular group that will be served by their project. Some examples of groups served include a lunchtime mentoring group for at-risk elementary schoolers, an afterschool program for low-income children, a support group for domestic violence survivors, and an educational group for young parents-to-be.

As the project takes place in an upper-division course for majors, it has been intentionally designed as a long-term, multi-step undertaking which gives the student teams a great deal of responsibility for crafting their particular project. The project extends over roughly 12 weeks of the 16-week semester, and the project can be described by dividing it into four phases.

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