Diversity education graduate students gain perspective through summer service learning immersion

11th August 2016
service learing

Children from around the world are the focus of diversity education service learning. Photo by Kayla Bream.

By Steven Krolak

This summer, Alice Markiewicz, a graduate student in the School of Education at IU Southeast, found herself at the Iroquois Library in Louisville, discussing the taste of camel meat with a 22-year old refugee from Somalia.

“I asked her what her favorite food was,” said Markiewicz. “She said it was camel, and that got us into a conversation on how good it is and how I should try it.”

It was all in a day’s work for Markiewicz and other students enrolled in the core graduate course, H520, “Education and Social Issues.”

Besides classroom instruction, the course requires a service learning project in the community that brings students face to face with people from different cultures, age groups and socio-economic backgrounds in order to assist them in making connections between theoretical readings, class discussions and lived experiences.

Activities ranged from providing homework help to English language learners from the Congo with no formal education to more informal conversational settings on a drop-in basis to basic language work with refugees. A getting-to-know-you activity or conversation allows for mutual cultural discovery.

Sites for the project included youth intervention services, Kentucky Refugee Ministries summer children’s day camp, YMCA summer children’s services, English conversation club at the Iroquois Library, and summer school programs with children living in poverty and homeless children.

Markiewicz has been teaching orchestra and arts & humanities at Waggener High School in Louisville for five years. In the English Conversation Club, she found people from around the world, ranging in age from seven to 70. Working with a refugee from Somalia was a different experience for her. Her pupil had only been in the country for six months and spoke very little English, challenging Markiewicz to come up with many different ways to explain even simple terms.

Over the course of the exercise, the two became friends, and Markiewicz gained an appreciation for the obstacles overcome by the refugee population, an appreciation she says will resonate in her approach to students in her own classroom.

“I gained a fresh perspective on how much work they go through to assimilate themselves into this country,” she said. “I now take into account what my students’ perspectives are, based on their background and home life.”

Kayla Bream teaches second grade at Bates Elementary in Louisville. She volunteered at Kentucky Refugee Ministries, teaching children from Cuba, Myanmar, Congo and elsewhere.

She believes that the service learning opportunity gave her tools to feel more confidence in addressing diversity issues that might arise in her class, with colleagues and with families she works with.

“Diversity training makes us aware of how our students and their families might view education in a different light,” Bream said. “It enables me to take into consideration the viewpoints of all my students each time I plan my instruction or have a conversation with them or their families.”

Bream emphasizes that the diversity skills honed in the service learning component ultimately rebound to the benefit of the children.

“Truly getting to know my students and their families can empower them to take ownership of their learning and become leaders in the classroom,” Bream said.

At the end of the service learning, students submitted a summary and reflection. The papers are filled with documentation not only of hours logged and activities undertaken, but of the transformative effect of the exercise.

“Our teachers have the skills and dedication to impact students from a variety of backgrounds,” said Lisa Hoffman, assistant professor of education and instructor of the course. “Service learning affords teachers opportunities to impact students they may not otherwise meet.”

Homepage photo by Kayla Bream.

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