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Every level of education has seen a revival of interest in volunteer service learning as an antidote to the narcissism and irresponsibility of modern lifestyles.  All over the country in alternative and some traditional settings, examples of service learning can be found.  At Chadwick School in Los Angeles, privileged students run a soup kitchen, help the mentally ill put on plays, work with disturbed children, and campaign for environmental protection.  At Harlem’s Rice High School in New York, students work with the sick and needy.  In Connecticut, students serve as the professional rescue squad for a semi rural area.  In all of the se programs, young people’s abilities to participate and help are valued (Lewis, 1990).

For six to eight weeks in Shoreham-Wading River, students spend a double period, twice a week, in some community service activity.  Students, for example, may work with elderly people or those with disabling conditions (Macroff, 1990). Students in Petaluma, California worked hard to clean up the endangered Adobe Creek.  They hailed out 20 truckloads of junk, including old washing machines, sofas, two beds, and 36 old tires.  They planted willow trees.  Now the group is trying to raise $200,000 for a fish hatchery.  At least 25 former students are studying natural resources and wildlife at Humboldt State University in Northern California.  Three others are now majoring in environmental law at other institutions (Sims, 1991).

Service learning opens unusual programming possibilities with troubled children and youth who heretofore have been themselves “damaged goods”.  As they reach out to help others they create their own proof of worthiness (Brendtro & Nicholau, 1985).  Diane Hedin (1989) summarized various research studies supporting the positive results of volunteer service.  These include increased responsibility, self-esteem, moral development, and commitment to democratic values.

Putting it All Together: The Michigan Study

Our thesis has been that reclaiming programs must address the critical variables of belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity.  We close this article by highlighting a recent study of more than 300 delinquent youth in Michigan correctional facilities (Gold and Osgood, 1992).  The program encompassed two state and two private treatment centers using Positive Peer Culture (PPC) treatment methodology.

The Michigan researchers gathered exhaustive data from records, referral agencies, staff, students and caregivers.  They observed each youth from arrival until 6 months follow-up after release.  The population consisted of boys, generally 15 or 16 years old, who had been arrested form one to 20 times.   The typical student was remarkably unsuccessful in school, with average academic achievement 4.2 grade levels below expectation.  A third of the boys had not even attended school in the period before placement.  These youth are representative of those served currently by North American juvenile corrections department.

EDMS 512, Hood

Summer 2006

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