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27 July 2005

Service Learning Class a Success

JSU students Matt Griffith and Shanna Smith, center, participate with high school students in a reality check exercise to demonstrate responsible spending and use of credit. (Courtesy photo)

By Sherry Kughn
News Bureau

Dr. Nancy Stewart, Jacksonville State University assistant professor of social work, heard about a program to reduce truancy and improve retention of female high school students in Cleburne County. She remembered that JSU once offered a course that gave undergraduate students the opportunity to plan and carry out a service project. Dr. Stewart met with JSU alumna Maureen Sullivan, who works in Cleburne County, and discussed the possibility of combining the course and the project. The result has been a success for high school and undergraduate students.

Dr. Stewart and the planners in Cleburne County recently culminated the project with a week-long seminar that allowed undergraduate students to help 18 high school girls improve their self esteem and increase their desire to reach for success in the workplace and in life. The undergraduate students drove each day for a week in mid-July to Cleburne County where they spent more than eight hours a day with 18 girls.

Many activities took place during the week for both sets of students. Some enjoyed meeting the girls they had contacted by telephone to make certain they had transportation and knew they were expected to attend each session. Some sat in and listened to the speakers they had lined up for the girls as they all heard from professionals in the fields of health care, fitness, beauty, wardrobe, and business. Several students said they enjoyed simply interacting with the girls and possibly being viewed as a role model.

"I shared with some of them that I work two jobs and go to college," said Shanna Smith of Munford, who added that she and fellow student Andrea Brothers worked together to formulate the interview questions.

Other undergraduates said they encouraged girls whose problems ranged from peer pressure to money to family issues, although they did not attempt to be counselors. Their role was to assist the professional social workers in many but not all of the aspects of the program. For instance, the girls were chosen for the program by the social workers who sent out applications to every female student at Cleburne County High School. Also, letters were sent out to the male students for a class dealing with male issues, but only three responded. Planners are now considering a course for males that can teach social skills through a sporting event.

Both the undergraduates and high school students gained benefits, says Dr. Stewart. She recently asked the dozen or so undergraduates to evaluate the course and to review what each learned.

"I learned about motivating volunteers," said Teresa Dawson of Centre, who works for a nonprofit organization. "What I learned will help me with my job."

Several of the undergraduates expressed a desire to follow up with the teens that they took shopping, to the beauty shop, and to a fashion show where the girls were the models.

"I wanted to have even more time with them," said Valencia Ingram of Anniston.

The undergraduates were not all social work students. Some are studying education, psychology, liberal studies, and sociology. The only male undergraduate was Matt Griffith of Hokes Bluff. He had studied how self esteem affects dropout rates and risky behavior. He expressed an interest in taking part in the same type of class for male students. All of the students prepared a paper about their role in the course.

Dr. Stewart said the project's planner certainly want the JSU students involved in the future. She looks forward to reading the evaluations filled out by the undergraduate students so she can tailor future courses to meet the needs of her students.

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