Service-Learning is a method of instruction that has been powerfully transformative to my ministry. It entails having students work in the community as a part of their course so that they can better understand the course material through a practical experience. But it also bears much fruit in their lives, as they are often confronted with their own stereotypes and prejudices towards whomever the service is being directed to: usually the homeless, poverty stricken, and abandoned in the community. The following 6 part series will discuss two major concepts from Hispanic theology and how they apply to service-learning as pedagogy: acompañamiento and concientización. Both of these concepts can greatly contribute to how effective service-learning can be towards helping to transform young adults (and perhaps older ones as well) into loving agents of change in their communities. Acompañamiento and concientización also represent the impact that Hispanic theology can have in our communities, especially those that are economically and socially diverse.

Part I

volunteerBarry University is a Catholic university in Miami, Florida built with a strong emphasis on social justice and collaborative service. The university’s department of theology and philosophy requires that the Introduction to Theology course be a service-learning course. The university defines service-learning as a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with course work and critical reflection to enrich the learning experience, foster civic responsibility, and strengthen communities. I consider myself humbled to be tasked with coordinating service-learning for the department of theology and philosophy as it has allowed my own prayer life and faith to grow.

A study conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service ranked Miami 51st of 51 major cities for rates of resident volunteerism. While it is possible that their statistics could be off because of several factors: language barriers, failures to accurately report ecclesial based service, etc., the 14.3% volunteerism rate is still startlingly low. While there are some students that come to Barry University from other states and countries, the majority are commuter students who travel no more than an average of 20 miles to attend the classes at the Miami Shores campus. I too have noticed that many students do not enter Barry University with any inherent attitude of service or volunteerism. It is something that must be teased out of them. For some, the reflections serve as an impetus to motivate them to further service and allow them to find allies for service among their peers. For others, it is yet another requirement that must be ticked away in order for them to continue on their road to graduation. The economic and social situation of some students may also speak to their willingness to engage in service, as some have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet while they study.

The process that the students work through is one that should, in theory, allow for them to be open to transformation. The students must complete 10 hours of service as a part of their Introduction to Theology class, and are told that service-learning is not done to complete some sort of volunteerism requirement, but as a way for them to learn the course work. Depending on the instructor for any particular section of the course (there are usually twelve per semester) the students are then allowed to either choose their own particular service experience and placement or are given a service project in which the whole class participates. Their service experience is reflected upon in several different ways (which instructors are allowed to choose from), and usually ranges from reflection papers or journal assignments to in class discussions and guest speakers. The students then do a final integrative paper where they reflect theologically on their service experience and their own praxis. The reflection method is a method that has yielded good results from those that are open to it and expected results from those that are not (that is to say, little to no noticeable change).

Next week, I will dive into Part II: Acompañamiento and Service-Learning.

2013 © Steffano Montano.  All Rights Reserved.

Photos from Barry University.