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Service-Learning In A Community School: AmeriCorps VISTA and The University


PondLongtime children’s television show host Fred Rogers once said, “we live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem. Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes”

I believe that not everyone has equal access to life’s chances. I also feel that it is important and necessary to give back to society. Everyone has something to contribute. In my family, these were values or a belief system to live by. Learning to give back is part of how I was raised. As a young adult who is just starting to build a career, I want to do something that is going to be meaningful and allow me to feel self-fulfilled in how I contribute to my community.

As a graduate of the University of Tennessee with a B.S. in Child and Family Studies, I am interested in working for a non-profit organization. I would love to teach children and families skills to assist them in accessing resources to empower themselves in their own lives. Presently, I am working for AmeriCorps as a VISTA or (Volunteer In Service To America). As a VISTA, you serve one year with an agency or organization to help fight poverty. The work that you do during that year is called your assignment. My assignment is working with Dr. Robert Kronick at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He is a Professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and Counseling. Dr. Kronick is also the Director of the Red University-Assisted Community School in Knoxville, Tennessee. It is my job to act as his assistant during the day until 3 and then to work as a volunteer at Red Elementary School from 3 until 7pm. My assignment has three main areas in which I focus my time. My work at Red Elementary School involves volunteering with the children, working with the University to gain more participation from the students and faculty to be more involved in service learning, and finally working to gain the support and trust from the Red Elementary School Community located off Sutherland Avenue in Knoxville. These main areas help to support our intervening efforts at Pond Gap.

Even though I have not completed my assignment for the year, this experience has already impacted my life. Working with cohorts aged K-5 has reminded me how important it is to be optimistic as well as to have an open heart. The students that I work with in the program should only be responsible for their needs as kids (i.e. homework, extra curricular activities, peer relationships, and future goals) but instead many of these individuals are carrying more mature burdens as well as worrying about being kids. I am realizing that one of the things I would like to do in the future is work one on one with adolescent girls and help them realize their goals as well as teach them how to be critical thinkers.

VISTA and the University
The mission of The College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences is “at UT is to promote a healthy, educated, and civil society; to encourage life-long learning; and to enhance the quality of life within the diverse, global community by preparing professionals to lead and serve by conducting research and by engaging in service and outreach activities (” Having been given the opportunity to work at UT and to fulfill my job as a VISTA, I can meet the goals of the missions for both UT and AmeriCorps.

As a VISTA, it is my duty to uphold the mission of the Corporation for National and Community Service through my service at my placement site here at the University of Tennessee. The mission of the CNCS is “to provide opportunities for Americans of all ages and backgrounds to engage in service that addresses the nation’s educational, public safety, environmental, and other human needs to achieve direct and demonstrable results and to encourage all Americans to engage in such service. In doing so, the Corporation will foster civic responsibility, strengthen the ties that bind us together as a people, and provide educational opportunity for those who make a substantial commitment to service.” (


Through my collaboration with Dr. Kronick and the program at Red Elementary School, I believe that I have faithfully promoted the legacy of VISTA. It is our main goal to provide specialized opportunities for the child’s educational, social, cultural, religious or athletic development, or to provide the child with mental or physical health services. The school is a hub of services designed to lessen the fragmentation of services so that those children and families in need may access these services (Kronick, 2005).

Red Elementary is one of five full service schools in Knoxville that Dr. Kronick and I are intervening in to provide services. These schools are Title I schools which means that their student population consists of students who receive 85-90% free or reduced lunches as well as they have high mobility rates (Kronick, 2005).
Our full service school is unique in its own right. Our primary source of funding comes from proprietary funding instead of federal funds. Our funder is a local philanthropist within our community who was interested in finding a way to help support education. With his considerable efforts, we have been able to provide the program and our students with original programs and activities.

Service-LearningCommunity Schools
Full service schools evolve as a result of a surrounding community’s need. In the case of Knoxville, Tennessee’s Sutherland Avenue community there is high poverty, and lower socio-economic conditions. Thus, implementing a full service community school was a good idea.

In communities where environmental factors are such as these, crime between the hours of 3-8 p.m. is the highest concern. Many of the students after being let out of school are latch key kids and do not have supervision until a parent/guardian returns home. Other kids do not have consistency or any real place to call home.

One afternoon while I was at Red volunteering, the students were in arts and crafts drawing. I was with one young lady and she showed me a picture she was coloring. I asked her what it was, and she replied that it was her dream room. In the drawing, there was one of every kind of electronic play station as well as her room was decked out all girly style with a big screen television. I remember sitting next to her thinking how to me her priorities seemed out of whack. I understood that her mother was having some serious financial difficulties because not too long ago this particular girl’s younger brother had confided to me that he, his sister, and mother were soon moving because mom could not afford the rent and they had just had their electricity turned off. So, to me it seemed that he was worried about more real issues whereas this girl was living in more idealistic terms and a fantasy world. This is just one story of the real world issues that the students at Red face daily. I want at the least to relieve the stress of not knowing where they are going to end up when they leave school. With our extended day program we can offer them four more hours of feeling safe and give them full and nutritious meals.

Our full service school's program is based upon on Dr. Kronick's model. Paramount to this model are three intervening concepts: prevention, collaboration and systems thinking.

Prevention is what our program is all about. Everything we do and offer our children and families when looking at the bigger picture is hoping to keep the H.O.J.E. What this means is healthy, out of jail, and employed (Kronick, 2005). By prevention we are working

to assist with mental health, juvenile delinquency, and poverty. During the process of selecting the individuals to include in the pilot run of our full service school we gave this daunting task to the principal of the school. The principal has her heart and soul in this project and she creatively came up with seven indicators to use in choosing who to include. Out of the possible seven; parental incarceration, truancy, and excessive talking were chosen as indicators to be included in the full service school. If we can be successful with this full service school, then it will be evident that our students will become more autonomous in their decisions. For example, the students will not allow peer pressure to be a major issue, kids will come to school on time and stay all day, and they will learn the discipline system during the school hours and during the extended day program so that they know the limits. Ultimately, our students will know and understand that the individuals involved with the Red Elementary School community here truly want them to succeed.

Collaboration refers to people from many areas who share power and work together to accomplish a goal (Kronick, 2005). The collaborating efforts that are in place for our extended day program at Red include; The University of Tennessee, Knox County School System, Red Elementary School, and the Community of Sutherland Avenue in Knoxville. It is the primary interests of these entities that our program at Red fulfills the needs and well being of the children and families at Red.

One area that I feel we all do a great job is our in-services with our staff. We are working on listening and brainstorming new ideas to be more effective and thorough with our program. There are areas in which we still seem to have disagreement like with discipline but I am amazed how we decide to handle and discuss the issue. Time out and the refocus room are where we send kids who seem to really be having a difficult time. After we have spoken one-on-one to the child and then decide they need to talk about issues with someone who can give them quality attention for instance more personal contact with an assurance of privacy. Collaboration in this sense is an effort and we are making strides to better improve it. Our full service school is utilizing the partnerships that have been made within the community to intervene in the lives of our elementary students to give them resources to have healthier lifestyles and better support systems.

Service-LearningSystems thinking requires those with human capital, agency, power to help in the aid of unwanted behavior. It involves the rules, roles, and responsibilities as they relate to an entity (Kronick, 2005). The concept of systems thinking requires those with human capital, agency, and power to help in the aid of unwanted behavior (Kronick, 2005). It involves the rules, roles, and responsibilities as they relate to an entity. As it relates to our full service school we are looking at the resources and tools available to those at Red Elementary School in assisting the families and children involved with the project.

One family in particular that currently is in our full service school at Red has two boys. The oldest is in 4th grade and the youngest is in 2nd grade. The oldest, as I perceive, assumes the responsibility of the adult male figure. He is a good kid. Unfortunately, there have been discipline issues as a result of peer pressure. His younger brother, on the other hand, is much more free-willed. In October, he was throwing temper tantrums in order to gain attention. Volunteers and staff in the program would be calling the coordinator of our program to come take him off their hands. As of two weeks ago during a presentation given by UT nursing students this young man was being attentive and raising his hand. He seemed to be genuinely interested in the presentation.

Hopefully, we are seeing these changes in their behaviors and attitudes because of the attention and efforts put forth by the volunteers associated with the program. Maybe it is because the boys’ mother has taken the time to talk to staff within the program, or maybe it is because they are receiving three healthy meals a day.

The program at Red began by reaching out to the greater community of Knoxville as well as to the University for ideas or potential interest in helping us with our cause. The program has received many resources to help with our intervening efforts. Since laundry can sometimes be a hassle, we have a washer and dryer available to the families free of charge. It is important to remember that the social and emotional needs of the children are as important as fulfilling the academic and extra-curricular needs. With that being said we are hoping to provide a mobile dental lab.

All the needs are met by staying open from 3-7 pm, Monday thru Friday. Some of the programs our students enjoy are both curricular and non-curricular programs during the after school hours. Presently, the program includes the following:
Math and Reading academic support
Music enrichment
HABIT: Ruff Reading Program
Ijams Nature Center
Art Enrichment

We also offer resources for the parents and families:
Mediation services
Legal assistance
GED, ESL, literacy classes
Car maintenance

Service-Learning and the Community School
“Service-learning is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities. Service-learning is a structured learning experience that combines community service with preparation and reflection. Service-learning provides college and university students with a “community context” to their education, allowing them to connect their academic coursework to their roles as citizens.” Service-learning is not a widely known concept on the campus of the University of Tennessee. That is not to say that it isn't happening, rather it could be so much more. One of the other major goals of my assignment with Dr. Kronick has been to help spread the word and promote service-learning courses or at least help student organizations become more involved with service-learning. We have utilized Red as a means of promoting service-learning across the campus. We have different departments and colleges from the university that are interested in becoming more involved in Red. We have students teaching different topics to the elementary students as well as college students volunteering and working one on one as mentors with the children.

There is a graduate course on Thursday evenings where the UT students are paired with Red elementary students. The first half of the class the kids hang out and eat dinner with the grad students. After dinner the grad students have a discussion and relate theory with practice. Other forms of service-learning that are underway include colleges and departments from the university who do presentations or activities with the kids like Philosophy for Kids: Big Ideas for Little Kids, Visual Humor: Creative Play with Mixed Media, Weather Ready! Programs like these are so wonderful because they relate to the real world and offer the elementary students the ability to think critically and find areas that interest them. With Philosophy for Kids, that is all about ethics and morals. Visual Humor is about expressing their creative side, relieving stress and recognizing humor in everyday life.

Thomas Jefferson said, “ An educated citizenry is essential to democracy.”
The full service school program at Red is designed to validate that statement. It is with the best intention that we can meet the most basic needs for the elementary school. It is my intention that one day these children will be active participants within their communities. I hope that by exposing them now to the resources within the community that some day they will know how to find them on their own.

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