By Service-Learning Program Assistant & Co-op Asta MacKie
Creating Partnerships in Service-Learning
Service-Learning is, first and foremost, a relationship constructed to meet the goals of a community organization and the learning goals of a course. A successful partnership is one in which students are able to perform meaningful service with a community organization while simultaneously advancing their knowledge in the respective course or discipline. Service-Learning is a form of experiential learning tailored to give back to the Greater Boston community, and a way for Boston organizations to tap into the minds and skills of Northeastern students. Before the start of each semester, the Service-Learning team puts much time and thought in to creating and nurturing these partnerships between faculty members and community partners to achieve this greater goal. Having been a part of this team for the Fall 2017 semester, I wanted to explore a community partner’s perspective on how their goals or expectations for service may have evolved or changed when introduced to new opportunities through Service-Learning.
Riley Roberts and Katie Mazzeo at the Labouré Center.
Catholic Charities of Boston, Labouré Center
As a Service-Learning Program Assistant, part of my role includes being the Service-Learning Teaching Assistant for the course Math, Magic, Puzzles, and Games, taught by Professor Stanley Eigen as part of the University Honors Program. I spoke with two representatives of our class’s community partners – Katie Mazzeo and Riley Roberts from Catholic Charities of Boston, Labouré Center – about their hopes and expectations for service. Their organization serves as an after school and summer program for about twenty students in 3rd to 6th grade, creating a space for tutoring and homework help. Katie, the organization’s Youth Program Coordinator, explained that because their youth program is completely free for the students’ families, it can be challenging to find new, fun, and encouraging content for their students. The Labouré Center has strong retention rates, and the majority of their students are returning from past years or are siblings and friends of past students. While this is a clear sign of the Center’s success, it makes it difficult to find content that the kids haven’t already done the year before. Service-Learning creates the opportunity for a fresh face and a new topic to cover with the students. As Katie said, “the kids are always excited to hear from someone new.”
Partnering with Math, Magic, Puzzles, and Games
Katie began her partnership with Service-Learning with a very open mind about what her organization may get out of their relationship with a Northeastern course. The Labouré Center has worked with Service-Learning courses at Northeastern in the past, however, this is the Katie’s first time partnering with the university. “I just came across Northeastern Service-Learning in an old file, and I thought ‘I needed to be a part of that.’” A Service-Learning veteran herself, she had had several service-learning experiences while in college, but she knows that the practice is expanding. “When I was a Service-Learning student, a lot of it was related to Human Services or Sociology or Anthropology – just people observing something. But I know now that a lot has changed and that a lot of different disciplines get involved with Service-Learning and try new things, so I’m always excited and open to new ideas that any professor or group of students may have.” The Labouré Center employs a group of teenage volunteers to assist in tutoring the younger students, and this was the job title that Katie had initially included when she applied to partner with Service-Learning this fall. Rather than tutoring, the possibility of workshops and presentations from a math course was introduced to Katie, and after a brief meeting at Partnership Orientation in August, she was quickly on board. As she put it, “I’m happy to put people to work as tutors, but I think there can be a lot more buy-in for the college students when they’re teaching their own project.”
The curriculum for the Math, Magic, Puzzles, and Games course revolves around Service-Learning, and the students’ grades will be based on the projects they create for their partners. Groups of 4-5 students are expected to prepare three presentations and workshops for their community partners, who in addition to the Labouré Center, include St. Stephen’s Youth Program at Church of St. Martin and St. Augustine, Massachusetts General Hospital Youth Scholars Program, and Bird Street Community Center. In this way, the students are developing a deeper understanding for the mathematics behind classic magic tricks, puzzles, and games, and hopefully sparking an interest in math among the youth to whom they will be presenting. The Northeastern students spent the first couple weeks of the semester choosing their topics and building their presentations, adding their own teaching styles and personal touches to their projects. The weeks leading up to first days of service consist of presentations to the entire class, in order to ensure that a polished version is presented to the youth at the Labouré Center and the rest of the course’s community partners. The Labouré Center is busy with preparation for service too, and Riley, the Assistant Coordinator of the Program, explained how they include Service-Learning in their newsletter to inform the parents of what will happen, and will remind the youth about their upcoming events to get them excited and prepared to welcome the new guests. As October draws to a close, Northeastern students will have already headed out to the Labouré Center to conduct their first workshop to the students in South Boston.
Stanley Eigen and the Math, Magic, Puzzles, and Games course prepare for Service.
In the end, Service-Learning creates an opportunity to share strengths and assets between community partners and the university. Experiential learning is heavily stressed at Northeastern University, and it is important to get outside the campus bubble. There are countless opportunities for students to give back to the Boston community what they’ve learned in their courses, but also an incredible chance for Northeastern students to learn from the community. As I spoke of this during our interview, Katie pointed out that this was very true for their organization as well. “I think it’s really important to have Service-Learning, because sometimes the non-profit world can be pretty isolating when it’s just one or two adults over here, and I think it’s important to build partnerships with other parts of the community like Northeastern.” In this way, we can tap in to one another’s ideas and resources, and create lasting partnerships that benefit both Northeastern University and organizations like the Labouré Center. Meeting with Katie and Riley helped to reinforce my ideas of what a successful Service-Learning relationship can look like between an organization, faculty member, and group of students. I hope that this mindset will be carried into the semesters to come, and that partners and faculty alike will be inspired to think creatively with one another about what their partnership can create.