Background/Context: A number of states across the United States are seeking to implement school redesign efforts to support greater equity and to empower youth. Because these initiatives require teachers to implement strategies they typically have not experienced as learners, there is a need for models to prepare them to enact these innovations. Research has shown that service-learning can provide a view into educational experiences that are different from what teacher candidates experienced in their own schooling.
Purpose/Focus of Study: The state of Vermont recently legislated school reform that includes three elements: (1) proficiency-based learning, (2) personalized learning, and (3) flexible pathways to graduation. Enacting these mandates requires fostering youth voice. When redesigning our courses to model these principles, we added a critical service-learning experience to a content literacy course in our teacher education program, providing one-on-one academic support to resettled refugee youth. This qualitative study explores the learning outcomes of that service-learning experience. In addition, this study examines how these learning outcomes relate to the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to enact school reform efforts focused on empowering youth.
Research Design: This interpretive study examines the critical service-learning experience embedded in a content literacy course. Candidates provided weekly academic support to resettled refugee youth in one of three community centers. There were 18 participants in the study. Data collection included reflection papers, an anonymous questionnaire, and interviews with selected participants.
Conclusions/Recommendations: Data analysis demonstrates that the service-learning experience (1) cultivated an awareness of individual learners, (2) increased the understanding of pedagogical practices for diverse learners, (3) fostered a sense of cultural humility, and (4) broadened understanding of the community. Taken together, these impacts help prepare future teachers to enact school reform in ways that empower youth.