by Raechel Fittante
Volunteer experience, education and contemplation were some of the key benefits attained by the students of last semester’s pilot service learning class, the first class at the University of La Verne to fall under that category of the new undergraduate general education core requirement.
When the program, which is still coming together, was in its trial stages last semester, a group of six ULV sophomores and juniors volunteered to participate in the pilot class, an experimental test of the community service requirement in the true context of both the community and the classroom.
Led by Dr. Teresa Bader-Hull, general education program director and core coordinator, sophomores Katherine Custodio, Tara Gibson and Tagui Gradzhyan, and juniors Clara Arcadia, Tina Wallace and Marine Gradzhyan propelled the pilot class to test the waters for future classes.
Reinforcing the hopes to generate a well-balanced and prosperous service learning program at ULV, the experiences of the pilot class embody what will now be a pertinent theme in ULV’s structure.
“A lot of people want to get out of their academic areas and try something new,” said Dr. Bader–Hull, relating her aspirations for a better service-oriented campus. “There will be many students who choose to do it because they want to, not just because it’s a requirement.”
Officially added into the list of courses needed for graduation for all students who entered ULV as freshmen in fall of 1995, the core requirement includes a semester of class participation on a chosen subject and 25 hours of community service involving that subject.
“The foundation is similar for every single core,” said Dr. Bader-Hull, adding that each core class follows course outlines design specifically to “help make the program work.”
Also, instructors of core classes meet as a training group beforehand to ensure each class will work to meet the needs of students.
Subjects dealt with last semester included hunger and children. Two of the six students involved in the pilot class have “extended it past the requirement,” said Dr. Bader-Hull.
Marine Gradzhyan still works as an English tutor for the literacy program at which she originally volunteered.
“She [Gradzhyan] gave them a six-month commitment,” said Dr. Bader-Hull.
“I’ve always wanted to be involved with volunteering and with children,” said Arcadia of her role as a teacher’s assistant in a fourth grade class at Roynon Elementary School.
Arcadia is not just speaking from past experience alone, though, because she still volunteers at the school and is “going to get hired soon” for what may lead to a permanent position as a teacher’s assistant.
She said that it is appreciation from the children that has had the most impact on her.
“I see the affect I have on them; the smiles on their faces,” she said.
Meeting in a classroom setting once a week, the students in the class shared their new experiences each week with the rest of the group.
Tagui Gradzhyan, who initially joined the class because she thought it would be fun, said, “It gets people more involved; it forces them to become more involved.”
She volunteered her 25 hours at the Beta Center Food Bank in Pomona.
”A lot of people want to volunteer, but they don’t know how to go about it. This forces people to realize what a wonderful experience it really is,” Gradzhyan said.
“In the class sessions we would discuss how our site went for the week and we were also responsible for writing journals,” said Gibson, who applied her service hours at the West End Sova in Ontario, another organizational food bank.
At the Sova, Gibson packaged and distributed food and also interviewed people as they came in for food.
“We had to make record cards on the people who came in,” she said. “They are only allowed to come every three months.”
“The class sessions are about talking and learning about what happened,” said Dr. Bader–Hull, adding that the reflection process is the most important part of the core classes because it enables students to get the most out of the experience.
The reflection sessions enable students “to realize the questions it [volunteering] raises,” Dr. Bader-Hull said. “It is the means by which service and learning are linked; it helps students reflect on the experience they’ve had and move forward.”
Dr. Bader-Hull said the intent of the requirement is to give students and faculty a chance to use their own skills in the interest of the community.
“The option of choice is so very important to us,” she said of the wide variety of topic selections on the agenda for next fall’s core classes. These include themes of hunger, prison education, urban and church problems and youth at risk, as well as a class entitled “Information, Technology and Serving the Community,” which will have ULV students instructing, training and teaching senior citizens about modern technology.
There are three core classes this semester including a mentoring and tutoring class at Roynon, Archaeology as an Educational and Community Resource and a Spring Break trip to an orphanage in Tecate, Mexico.
Custodio, aside from being in the pilot class last semester, also went to Tecate last year for volunteer experience in the service learning field.
She said, “The pilot class was definitely a good idea. I got more out of it than I expected.”
Custodio went to Roynon Elementary for her 25-hour requirement.
“I made a difference in their lives somewhat,” she said. “It’s like a mentor program, in the sense of making sure they know you are there for them.”
Faculty members at ULV have initiated the classes for next semester and have volunteered to teach them as well.
“It’s been wonderful to have faculty come forward,” said Dr. Bader-Hull.
This year’s freshmen class will start their core requirements this fall.
“We’re making sure the advisers recommend that they sign up,” said Dr. Bader-Hull.
Also, the class, offered for upper division units, can be taken up to four times by any ULV student.
“If you put it into perspective, 25 hours is one day out of your life to give back to the community,” said Dr. Bader-Hull. “One day in your life might not even be significant to you, but can affect someone’s life significantly.”