In our last Foundations of Service-Learning post, we identified types of service that would be a good fit for your course. Here, we ask, “What comes next after selecting your community partner?” While each partnership is different, some key considerations and tasks apply to all.
Understand the type of agency you are working with: a Community Partner Agency or an ACE Community Partner Agency. Service-Learning can happen at either agency, but it’s helpful to know what category your agency falls into. An Advocate for Community Engagement (ACE) is an IU undergraduate student working within the agency to support, manage, and facilitate service-learning. If you are partnering with an ACE Community Partner Agency, the ACE will be an essential support for your partnership. We will talk more about how ACEs can assist in the next Foundations of Service-Learning post.
Consider the type of service your students will engage in: direct service or project-based service. With direct-service, students work directly with the population being served by the agency and participate on site in the agency’s daily work. Students have a regular presence at the agency, and the agency is often dependent on this additional support. With project-based service, the students develop an end product or deliverable; students may not have a regular presence at the agency and may only meet with staff occasionally.
Build a strong foundation with your community partner. Our community partner agencies are ever-changing in their needs, assets, funding, staffing, and goals. The best way to orient yourself to your community partner is an in-person meeting at the agency with your established contact person. As the person with the most frequent contact with students, your intimate knowledge of agency policies, procedures, protocols, population served, and physical space will be a tremendous resource to your students. Only with a robust agency knowledge can you envision how your students will engage with, benefit from, and add value to your community partner.
Focus on detailing all aspects of the partnership, and establish rights and responsibilities. The primary responsibility of service-learning students is to learn; the primary responsibility of community partners is to create an environment where learning is possible. The shared rights of all parties involved are to achieve maximum benefit and not experience undue risk or harm. While these rights and responsibilities seem obvious, it’s important to outline exactly how these responsibilities will be fulfilled and rights upheld. It’s also essential to develop a plan for managing challenges, as those are sure to pop up. A helpful document for detailing specifics of your partnership is the Statement of Expectations, which includes space for detailing expectations, goals, roles, responsibilities, and contingency plans, and is useful for faculty, students, and agency staff alike.
Check back next week for our next post on general responsibilities of Advocates for Community Engagement (ACEs) and how they can help you develop and manage partnerships within Community Partner Agencies.
If you’re laying the foundation for a service-learning partnership, contact Michael Valliant, our program director, for a one-on-one consultation to get additional feedback and support as you prepare for your partnership.