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Service-learning and student attitudes.

Abstract

This study sought to investigate the effects of the Lighthouse Partnership After-School Service-Learning Program on middle school students' attitudes and actions related to social and academic responsibility. Results indicated that the Lafayette Middle School students participating in the Lighthouse Partnership After-School Service-Learning Program showed statistically significant increases in Social and Academic Responsibility scores.

Introduction

Our nation is starving for dutiful citizens who will help care for each other and our country. The National Commission on Civic Renewal (1998) reported a rapid decline in both the quantity and quality of citizen engagement. It stated that "our overall civic condition is weaker than it was--and in need of significant improvement" (p. 23). The report recommended more research be conducted to determine how educators might rebuild positive citizen engagement from within the school system. Such engagement is thought to result in a more active and productive American society and government. The National Commission on Civic Renewal does not stand alone with the notion that positive citizen engagement may be rebuilt from within the school system. Current research indicates a relationship between the formation of citizenship and school experiences, a link between academic responsibility and social responsibility, and identifies the need for further research in the area of Service-Learning Programs as a way to enhance the social and academic engagement of at-risk students.

Research indicates a relationship between the formation of citizenship and school experiences. Youniss and Yates (1997) reported that the formation of citizenship is a developmental process. Through careful review and statistical analysis of previous studies, they found a significant relationship between adult levels of social engagement, sense of social responsibility, and the amount of participation in organized activities and civic behaviors they experienced as youth, 15 or more years earlier. The study concluded that adults who participated as students in high school government or community service projects are more likely to vote and to join community organizations than are adults who did not participate in government or community service. Secondly, research results support a link between academic responsibility and social responsibility. Scales, Blyth, Berkas, and Kielsmeier (2000) reported that students who are academically responsible are more likely to become socially responsible. While in school, students are expected to abide by certain rules and regulations. By building a bridge from the school community to the civic community, students will be more likely to follow rules and regulations in all areas of life (Scales et al.). Finally, research identifies the need for further research to be conducted in the area of Service-Learning. Cynthia L. White (2000) found that engaging students academically and socially was an imminent challenge for educators. Often, teachers encounter disengaged students who may be on a path to school drop out. Based on a study to determine how seventh grade students' educational and social engagement was affected when they participated in a summer Service-Learning orientation program, White recommended the need for further research in the area of Service-Learning Programs as a way to enhance the social and academic engagement of at-risk students.

Service-Learning Intervention

Mintz and Liu (1994) reported that Service-Learning is a teaching and learning method that connects meaningful community service experience with academic learning, personal growth, and civic responsibility. The Corporation for National and Community Service (2002) reported that Service-Learning combines service to a community and student learning in a positive way. This is thought to result in improvement of both the student and the community. Involving students in Service-Learning activities was one of the objectives established under the third National Education Goal for the year 2000, which sought to prepare students for responsible citizenship (Corporation for National Service, 1999). Students learn to be critically thoughtful, engaged, active, lifelong citizens by participating in Service-Learning activities. For example, active participation in thoughtfully organized experiences that meet community needs, structured time provided for thinking, talking, or writing, opportunities offered to use newly acquired skills and knowledge in real-life situations in their own communities, and development of a sense of caring for others foster social responsibility (National Service Learning Cooperative, 1998). The Corporation for National and Community Service (2002) designed a partnership program, called the Learn and Serve America Service-Learning Lighthouse Partnership, to develop civic responsibility among K-16 students through participation in Service-Learning experiences. The Lafayette County School District, in partnership with The University of Mississippi School of Education, offered this intervention through an after school program.

The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of participation in the Lighthouse Partnership After-School Service-Learning Program on middle school students' attitudes and actions related to social and academic responsibility. The problem associated with this study is the evident lack of research that supports the notion that Service-Learning programs facilitate the development of academic and social responsibility among middle school students.

Research Design and Rationale

This experimental study was conducted using quantitative methods. The study was based on a one-group pretest-posttest design. This design was appropriate because a single population was being treated with a specific learning program, which was seeking to change certain characteristics of that population. One goal of the Lighthouse Partnership Program was to foster civic responsibility through participation in service that meets community needs. The service required during the program had to be integrated into the academic curriculum and provide structured time for reflection. The Corporation for National Service awarded a grant for three years to The University of Mississippi School of Education in order to fund the Learn and Serve America After-School Service-Learning Lighthouse Partnership program. The School of Education at The University of Mississippi worked with the Lafayette County Public School District and the Oxford-Lafayette Chamber of Commerce to promote students' social responsibility and foster academic improvements.

Participants

The sample consisted of the 42 middle school students, grades 5 through 8, who participated in the Lighthouse Partnership After-School Service-Learning Program at Lafayette County School District during the fall session of the 2002-2003 school year. The middle school students were residents of Lafayette County and attended the Lafayette County School District. The students who participated in the program were selected by the principal and the guidance counselor at Lafayette Middle School. The goal for selection was to identify students who were struggling in more than one academic area for reasons other than special limitations or behavioral problems. The criteria used for selection were as follows: Low grades in two or more subjects indicative of a need for academic intervention; limited behavioral problems; no special education rulings or placements. The students who met the criteria for selection were invited to participate in the program. The participants were not required to attend the program and were allowed to discontinue participation at any time.

Method

Students/Subjects participated in The Lighthouse Partnership After-School Service-Learning Program, an after-school Service-Learning program funded by The Corporation for National and Community Service. The required program goals, as identified in the research design, were carefully followed and monitored through out the program by the program coordinators. In addition to providing a worthwhile and much-needed after-school educational and social experience, the program also strived to help keep students out of trouble in the unsupervised after-school hours.

The program was held for one hour and thirty minutes each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon after school. During this time, pre-service teachers from The University of Mississippi School of Education academically tutored middle school participants. The university students provided the tutoring as a Service-Learning component that was integrated into specific undergraduate educational courses. The middle school students were divided into four small groups by the program coordinators based on grade level. Each group of students was under the direct supervision of a Lafayette Middle School teacher. Technology was integrated into the academic instruction through the use of a computer lab. The academic curricula focused on grade-level math and reading instruction. In addition to the academic tutoring, each group of students participated in a Service-Learning project. The project was directly tied to the academic curricula and designed to benefit the Lafayette community by meeting a specific need identified through discussions with school administrators, teachers, and the Chamber of Commerce. Each classroom teacher, with the help of the University pre-service teachers, was in charge of choosing and planning the Service-Learning project. The service to the community and the academic learning complimented each other as they were woven together in several activities. Once the service needs were identified, the classroom teacher and the University pre-service teachers discussed how meeting the required academic skills might be accomplished.

For example, while University pre-service teachers served as tutors, they learned about service-learning as a teaching pedagogy and philosophy, implemented service learning projects with the middle school students, and learned how to individualize instruction to reach all students and address their needs. They also successfully addressed several identified needs in the community. The middle school students benefited in many ways from the service-learning projects as they developed and practiced deficient academic skills, contributed toward a positive, productive group effort, and earned a feeling of accomplishment and self-worth through their actions. The following activities represent some of the Service-Learning projects that were carried out during the after-school tutoring program.

The middle school students decided to implement a campus clean-up and recycling program and an educational campaign to inform other students about the importance of keeping the campus litter-free. They constructed bins to hold the different categories of trash, worked in small groups to collect campus litter, and created posters to display in the school hallway to help raise awareness of the litter problem and to urge others to clean up after themselves.

Mathematics: After collecting the litter, students used latex gloves to classify and sort items according to composition--paper, plastic, etc. They organized the data into circle, bar, and pictographs and wrote conclusions summarizing the information. They arranged to collect the trash and contribute toward the recycling effort in which the school district was already involved.

Social Studies: Students analyzed and implemented the practices of good citizenship which included taking responsibility, contributing toward a group effort, and working cooperatively in small groups to make analyze problems and community needs, make decisions and implement solutions. This Service-Learning project was started as part of a "campus adoption" initiative organized by the after-school students.

Science: Students collaborated with the Sardis Lake Park Ranger and the United States Army Corps of Engineers to increase Bluebird nesting corridors in North Mississippi. They learned about resources and other factors, both living and nonliving, that promote and limit growth of populations in an ecosystem. They monitored the Bluebird boxes each day, made sure that they were kept clean of trash, and collected data which was made a part of a larger state data base.

Social Studies: The after-school students chose to initiate a letter writing campaign to the residents of the local Veterans Home to better understand their roles in fighting during World War II. Students learned from primary sources about the people, events, and symbols of the war. They developed friendships with the residents of the Veterans Home who, in many instances, lived solitary lives.

Language Arts: Through the letter-writing activities, after-school students practiced composition skills and edited their own work for good grammar, sentence structure, and correct usage of vocabulary.

Instrument

Many instruments have been devised in order to measure a person's attitudes and actions related to academic and social responsibility. The survey administered in this study used a hybrid of four previously validated instruments to determine the effects of Service-Learning on social responsibility and academic responsibility among middle school students. The questions/statements were selected from each of the validated instruments based on the following two criteria: The relevance of the question to this study and the age appropriateness of the question. Repeated survey items were eliminated. The reading level of the resultant instrument was assessed using the Fry (1977) readability formula. This formula was used to assign a grade-level equivalent to the instrument.

The survey consisted of 40 questions based on a 4-point Likert scale: 1 = strongly disagree; 2 = disagree; 3 = agree; 4 = strongly agree. Eleven questions were selected from the Helping Dispositions Scale (Severy, 1975). Six questions were selected from the Scale of Service Learning Involvement (Olney and Grande, 1995). Thirteen questions were selected from the Community Service Attitude Scale (Shiarella, McCarthy, and Tucker, 2000). Ten questions were selected from the Lighthouse Partnership After-School Service-Learning Program Survey. The questions included in the survey were divided into two main categories. Attitudes and actions related to social responsibility were derived from questions 1-10, 12-13, 19, 22-23, 27-30 and 36. Responses on these items were aggregated and averaged to construct the dependent variable Social Responsibility Score. Attitudes and actions related to academic responsibility were derived from questions 11, 14-18, 20-21, 24-26, 31-35, and 37-40. These scores were aggregated and averaged to construct the dependent variable Academic Responsibility Score. Items 24, 38, and 39 were reverse-coded for analysis.

The following questions/statements are included in the survey: 5. Student volunteers can help improve the local community; 9. 1 am responsible for doing something to help the community; 25. I am starting to realize how much I can learn. The numbers beside each question/statement represent the location on the survey.

Procedure

A letter of informed consent was prepared and sent to all parents of the middle school children who participated in the program. The letter briefly described the purpose and procedures of the study and asked for permission to include their child in the study. This study took place in three major phases. First, on September 10, 2002, the pretest was administered measuring the students' actions and attitudes related to their social and academic responsibilities. Secondly, the students participated in the Lighthouse Partnership After-school Service-Learning Program. Finally, on December 10, 2002, a posttest was administered measuring the students' actions and attitudes related to their social and academic responsibilities. The same instrument served as both the pretest and posttest. The effects of the experimental treatment, the Service-Learning program, were determined by comparing the pretest and posttest scores.

Data Analysis

Research indicated a lack of age appropriate growth related to social and academic responsibility among students (Mullis, Owen, & Phillips, 1990; and U.S. Department of Education, 1991). Because of this, it was safe to assume that minimal growth related to social and academic responsibility was taking place among middle school students due to extraneous factors such as maturation and regular instruction. Therefore, the mean raw scores of the pretest and of the posttest were measured and then observed for differences. To determine whether a difference of scores was statistically significant, a t test for relational means was administered. Equal intervals were assumed for the ordinal data in conducting the t test. The mean scores were also used to calculate a confidence interval for analysis. The variance of the sample was used to estimate the variance of the population. Critical values from the students' t distributions were used when computing the confidence interval.

Survey Response Rate and Demographic Information The overall survey response rate was 74%; of the 43 students enrolled in the Light House Partnership After School Service-Learning Program, 32 returned signed consent forms from parents granting permission to participate and completed both the pretest and posttest for evaluation. Of the survey respondents, 59% were male and 41% were female; 44% were in the fifth grade, 34% were in the sixth grade, 9% were in the seventh grade, and 13% were in the eighth grade; 28% were 10 years old, 31% were 11 years old, 28% were 12 years old, six% were 13 years old, and six% were 14 years old.

Social Responsibility Results The mean raw scores of the pretest and of the posttest social responsibility data were measured and then observed for differences. To determine whether a difference of scores was statistically significant, a t test for relational means was administered. Equal intervals were assumed for the Likert responses. The overall mean score for the pretest data measuring student attitudes and actions related to social responsibility was M = 3.11. The standard deviation of the pretest social responsibility data was SD = .37. The standard error of the mean for the pretest social responsibility data was SE = .0658. The 95-percent confidence interval for the pretest social responsibility data was CI = (2.9784, 3.2466). The overall mean score for the posttest data measuring student attitudes and actions related to social responsibility was M = 3.36. The standard deviation of the posttest social responsibility data was SD = .38. The standard error of the mean for the posttest social responsibility data was SE = .0668. The 95-percent confidence interval for the posttest social responsibility data was CI = (3.2247, 3.4971). The difference between the overall mean score for the pretest and posttest data measuring student attitudes and actions related to social responsibility was statistically significant (p < .001). The overall mean score for the posttest social responsibility data (M = 3.36) was greater than the overall mean score for the pretest social responsibility data (M = 3.11). Also, the overall mean score for the posttest social responsibility data (M = 3.36) falls above the 95-percent confidence interval for the pretest social responsibility data (CI = 2.9784, 3.2466).

Academic Responsibility Results The mean raw scores of the pretest and of the posttest academic responsibility data were measured and then observed for differences. To determine whether a difference of scores was statistically significant, a t test for relational means was administered. Equal intervals were assumed for the Likert responses. The overall mean score for the pretest data measuring student attitudes and actions related to academic responsibility was M = 2.83. The standard deviation of the pretest academic responsibility data was SD = .32. The standard error of the mean for the pretest academic responsibility data was SE = .0559. The 95-percent confidence interval for the pretest academic responsibility data was CI = (2.7140, 2.9422).

The overall mean score for the posttest data measuring student attitudes and actions related to academic responsibility was M = 3.10. The standard deviation of the posttest academic responsibility data was SD = .36. The standard error of the mean for the posttest academic responsibility data was SE = .0643. The 95-percent confidence interval for the posttest academic responsibility data was CI = (2.9454, 3.2078). The difference between the overall mean score for the pretest and posttest data measuring student attitudes and actions related to academic responsibility was statistically significant (p < .001). The overall mean score for the posttest academic responsibility data (M = 3.10) was greater than the overall mean score for the pretest academic responsibility data (M = 2.83). Also, the overall mean score for the posttest academic responsibility data (M = 3.10) fell above the 95-percent confidence interval for the pretest academic responsibility data (CI = 2.7140, 2.9422).

Discussion of Results

Based on the findings of this research study, participation in the Lighthouse After-School Service-Learning Program at Lafayette Middle School, in the Lafayette County School District, significantly improved the attitudes and actions related to social and academic responsibility of middle school participants, grades five through eight. This research study was beneficial to all educators, especially educators working with this specific program, as they seek to find effective teaching methods for promoting both academic and social responsibility among their students.

Conclusions and Recommendations

This study indicates a positive relationship between Service-Learning and the attitudes and actions related to academic and social responsibility. The improvement of the middle school student participants' attitudes and actions related to academic and social responsibility provides evidence of growth of a much-needed characteristic among today's youth. Also, the improvement of the middle school student participants' attitudes and actions related to academic and social responsibility displays the need for and success of the Lighthouse Partnership After-School Service-Learning program at Lafayette Middle School.

There are many avenues for further research to be conducted based on the research provided in this study. First of all, the correlation of academic grades with attitudes and actions related to academic responsibility would provide powerful information for the Lighthouse Partnership. Secondly, the same type of study should be conducted with similar populations and compared in order to strengthen the research base related to Service-Learning programs. Also, the correlation between student participation and high school dropout rates would be beneficial. Finally, a similar study to be conducted with a larger sample size would provide a database more suitable for correlating the findings with demographic data such as gender, grade level, and age.

References

Corporation for National and Community Service. (1999, 2002). National evaluation of learn and serve America. [On-line] Available: http://www.cns.gov.

Mintz, S., & Liu, G. (1994). Service learning: An overview. Washington, DC: Corporation for National and Community Service.

Mullis, I. V. S., Owen, E. H., & Phillips, G. W. (1990). Accelerating academic achievement, America's challenge: A summary of findings from 20 years of NAEP. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 325 500).

National Commission on Civic Renewal. (1998). A nation of spectators: How civic disengagement weakens America and what we can do about it. College Park, MD: University of Maryland.

National Service-Learning Cooperative. (1998). Essential elements of service-learning. St. Paul, MN: National Youth Leadership Council.

Olney, C., & Grande, S. (1995). Validation of a scale to measure development of social responsibility. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 2, 43-53.

Scales, P., Blyth, A., Berkas, T. H., & Kielsmeier, J. C. (2000). The effects of service-learning on middle school students' social responsibility and academic success. Journal of Early Adolescence, 20(3), 332.

Severy, L. J. (1975). Individual differences in helping dispositions. Journal of Personality Assessment, 3, 283-292.

Shiarella, A. H., McCarthy, A. M., & Tucker, M. L. (2000). Development and construct validity of scores on the community service attitude scale. Educational & Psychological Measurement, 2, 286-301.

U.S. Department of Education. (1991). Trends in academic progress. Washington, DC: Clearinghouse on Teaching and Teacher Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 338 720).

White, C. L. (2001). Engaging at-risk students socially and educationally during a time of critical transition from elementary to junior high: A c case study of a summer service-learning intervention program. Bell and Howell Information and Learning Company. UMI Number: 3016421.

Youniss, J., & Yates, M. (1997). Community service and social responsibility in youth. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Jennifer K. Halfacre, The University of Mississippi

Deborah A. Chessin, The University of Mississippi

Martha S. Chambless, The University of Mississippi

Halfacre, Ed.D., is Assistant Professor of Education, Chessin, Ed.D., is Associate Professor of Education, and Chambless, Ed.D, is retired Professor of Education.
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Author:Chambless, Martha S.
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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