Serving to Learn, Learning to Serve


By Katie Cline

Jacksonville State University believes that it takes more than essays and exams to create well-rounded students. More and more, professors and departments are using the concept of service learning to give students additional opportunities to learn while serving their community through projects and activities.

The Learn and Serve America National Service Learning Clearinghouse defines service learning as “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.” But how does this translate to college classrooms?

Teresa Reed, JSU professor of English, has challenged her EH 103 Honors Freshman Composition classes to plan a community service project based off of their summer reading book, “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. Each of Reed’s two classes came up with a different project. One class is sponsoring a “Get Booky!” book drive for local schools, and the other is hosting a “Wild Block Party” for children residing on an Anniston Housing Authority property.

Part of Reed’s approach to service learning is to let the students take full ownership of their projects. Students were divided into proposal teams, with each team developing its own potential project. Teams then presented their proposals to the class and a vote was taken. The project with the most votes was implemented.

“I think we’re all really excited about the project,” Shelton McIlwain, a nursing major, said of her class’ book drive. “From what I’ve seen, everyone’s really into it and working really hard.”

The “Get Booky!” book drive will run from Oct. 26-Nov. 7. EH 103 students are accepting new or gently used children’s and young adult books to be donated to underfunded area schools in the hopes of improving literacy among those students. Book dropoff locations are located around campus and the Jacksonville community, including the Theron Montgomery Building, Houston Cole Library, Mason Hall, CVS, Jack’s, Winn-Dixie, Gamecock Outfitters and the Music Box.

Reed’s second Honors Freshman Composition class decided to throw a block party, and they’re pulling out all the stops. On Saturday, Nov. 15, students will be going to a Housing Authority property in Anniston, and the kids will have a day they won’t be likely to forget.

“We’re going to go there for the day and have games and food and stuff to get to know the kids,” said Hunter Longley, a communication major and one of the members of the class’ planning committee.

In addition to outdoor games like kickball and jump rope, EH 103 students will be grilling hamburgers and hot dogs and making arts and crafts with the kids. Inflatable bounce houses will also be on scene.

“Basically, when students participate in service learning, they learn more and they learn better,” said Reed. “So for me as an educator, service learning is less about, ‘This here younger generation needs to be less selfish,’ and it's more about the fact that service learning seems to help students engage more with the information and skills they are supposed to be learning.”

Nursing major Dodd Worley agrees, saying “It teaches you values.”

In a culture where it seems like community service is just another chance to post selfies on social media, JSU students are proving that they are not part of the “selfish selfie” generation and giving back to their local communities. For more information on service learning and how to use it effectively, visit Campus Compact or the Corporation for National and Community Service.