No More Community Service?

The Navigator

The community service requirement at Jacksonville University will transition to an optional honors certificate that will go into effect with the 2011-2012 catalogues. Beginning next semester, seniors, juniors and sophomores can choose to convert to the new catalogue by signing a form.

Instead of the 50 hours of community service being necessary for each graduate, students can choose to participate by completing 9 to 10 credit hours of specific learning service classes. Students who complete the curriculum will have a Service-Learning Certificate listed on their transcript.

The certificate represents a continued commitment to service.

“It would be promoting service along with the mission at the school,” said Laura Chambers, Director of Service Learning at Jacksonville University. “Other important schools and colleges are able to facilitate a service learning system that’s working without being a graduation requirement.”

Incoming freshman who begin Fall 2011 will automatically have the curriculum as part of their catalogue but the hours-tracking won’t disappear immediately.

“Sophomores, juniors, and seniors all have to choose,” Chambers said. “I wish there was a way to change it immediately but we can’t.”

Non-freshmen who are interested in obtaining the service-learning certificate are advised to compare their catalogue with the 2011-2012 catalogues because for some students the only change in the curriculum would be the service hours.

“We are trying more ways to make service a positive thing,” Chambers said.

A committee initiated a proposal to change the service learning system under the direction of Chambers.

According to the proposal, the university adopted the 50-hour service requirement in 1998 but it has created many logistical barriers for students, the service-learning center and the registrar’s office.

“It’s not working,” Chambers said.

Chambers said that currently 30 percent of seniors scheduled to graduate in April have not fulfilled their community service requirement.

“Rather than penalize, the certificate provides rewards for people who are actively with serving the community,” Chambers said.

The proposal’s rationale is that the curriculum would allow students to make a better connection between the experience, their education and role as a member of the community. Chambers said that it is hard to measure this through a reflective essay, which is the current method of evaluation.

Chambers said that “companies want people to be there to support them; they don’t want to see ten people in April there to fulfill a personal obligation.”

“Its not about hours,” Chambers said. “Its about serving the community and about student learning. The student-learning center can focus more energy on building student-learning courses. “

Wesley Lartey, senior at JU, is currently taking adapted physical education as a service learning course to prepare for his career in physical therapy.

“I definitely get more hands on experience,” Lartey said. “When you take a course you don’t see what can happen in a day to day basis and some of the real life things that you encounter.”

Lartey said that he learns about exercise programs for people with cognitive or physical disabilities in the classroom half the time and on the field during the rest of the time.

Currently, students in the course earn 25 volunteer hours working with children at the North Florida School of Special Education. Courses like these would be a part of the curriculum for students who choose to follow in the 2011-2012 course catalogues.

“It is definitely rewarding to know that you are helping people and know that you are teaching somebody,” Lartey said. “A lot of times the kids don’t get the attention they deserve.”

Lartey admitted that he probably wouldn’t be getting that type of volunteer experience until he graduated.

Shannon Wood, associate professor of physical education, has taught the class since 2005.

“I believe the service learning courses are a great way to take what students learn in the classroom and actually apply it with real world situations and/or placement,” said Wood via email exchange.

Wood said that service-learning courses should have objectives that align with a community partner who gives students an opportunity to make a difference within themselves to contribute to the community and their academic knowledge.

“My favorite part about teaching this specific service learning class is seeing how our JU students grow over the course of the semester and seeing them bring smiles to the faces of the young people we work with twice weekly.”