What does it mean to be an En/Route Community Partner?
Why En/Route students are with you:
As a service-learning program, En/Route places students in an environment in which they are learning to serve and serving to learn. By combining community service and reflection with academic coursework, we hope to educate the whole person: hands, heart and head.
En/Route students will have the same hands-on involvement as volunteers at your agency (and we certainly expect them to be useful to you!), but it is not helpful to think of them as volunteers. Being at your agency is not voluntary, but required in two senses. In a narrow sense, it is a requirement in the same way that coming to class, reading assigned books, and writing papers are requirements: they can, of course, volunteer not to do these things, but this is ultimately a choice not to do well in the class. In a larger sense, it is a requirement because students simply cannot do the other work of the class without the rich fund of experience they gain from being with you.
What your role is in this process:
With the focus on the learning in service-learning, there is a simple way to describe the role of our community partners: you are fellow teachers. Community partner staff members facilitate student learning on at least three levels.
Supervisors: Because most community sites have volunteers and volunteer coordinators, supervision will be a familiar role. Supervision is also crucial to students’ learning experience because the tasks they do are the foundation of that experience. Students, of course, will work with varying degrees of independence, but all students need staff members who are available throughout the year to respond to questions about their work. What needs to be done? How to do I/we do that? Am I meeting your expectations in my work? What does “more” (more effective, more efficient, more engaged, etc.) look like? If these questions are not raised by the students, you will sometimes need to start by asking and answering for them.
Role models: In class discussions over the year, we will focus not only on the work students do, but the personal characteristics needed to make work fruitful. Inevitably, community partners emerge out of such discussions as role models: people of integrity dedicated to being for and with others. And because all En/Route students are all in their first year of college, community partners are often their first opportunity to observe consistent professionalism at close range. Coming to understand how and why you do the work you do is often at the center of a student’s learning experience.
Experts: A student’s direct experience at your agency, no matter how rich, will always be partial: they cannot see everything within the limits of their time with you. Your vast experience and understanding (about mission, programs, clients, institutional history, etc.) helps students to situate their personal experience in a larger context and to make sense of it. As your time and interest permits, you may take a more active role in helping students to see the bigger picture and to take the long view, or you can simply make yourself available as questions of meaning arise for them.
How we support you in this process:
If you have read the above paragraphs and felt excited, wonderful. If you have read them and felt that your busy life just got a little busier, let us offer two points of consolation. First, while you may be more involved with our students than ordinary volunteers, we know from experience that they also become more involved with you than ordinary volunteers. This stronger relationship has immediate, tangible benefits for your agency, and often less tangible, long term benefits too, as students carry with them into their academic and professional futures a deeper understanding of your mission. Second, you are not on your own in this process. En/Route would not work without community partners, and those of us at Regis hope you will come to feel the same about us as we work together for a greater, common good. Please allow our Engaged-Scholar Activists (ESAs), the staff from the Center for Service Learning (CSL), and our En/Route faculty to support you as much and as often as your questions, challenges and ideas for innovation require.