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Chaparral 2016-2017: 25.4 Garfield Gleanings

Garfield Gleanings (April 2017)

Garfield Gleanings: Introducing Garfield Service Learning

by Megan Ernst

Garfield Campus Steward

There is a new program starting up at the Garfield Campus!

For her sabbatical project this semester, Megan Ernst, a faculty member in Noncredit ESL, is developing a way to encourage Noncredit ESL students to volunteer in the community. Many of GCC's Noncredit ESL students, immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as adults, face a variety of challenges unique from students in other disciplines.  Because they have not had a chance to build social circles outside their linguistic community during childhood or adolescence, most of our students tend to self-segregate when they're at home, and consequently have limited interaction with people from other backgrounds.  If they lack confidence in their ability to speak English, which is common among adults, this creates an even more daunting barrier to integration.

Despite these challenges, many Noncredit ESL students want to become more connected to English speakers and want to contribute to the larger community in a meaningful way.  With additional scaffolding and encouragement, Noncredit ESL students have the ability to work as volunteers at a wide variety of nonprofit organizations that support people with disabilities, people who are homeless, seniors, the environment, arts and culture, and more.  Volunteering will help our students learn about the LA area and its issues, understand more about civic engagement in the U.S., gain confidence using English, and establish the foundation for work experience in this country.

All meetings and service hours for Garfield Service Learning take place outside of class time, and participation in this program is entirely optional.  The volunteer coordinator's role is to serve as a liaison between nonprofits in need of assistance and students who want to volunteer.  She contacts nonprofit organizations to inquire about service opportunities, sets up dates and times for students to work there in small groups, and facilitates transportation to the sites.  For most events, the coordinator (and additional faculty volunteers) work alongside students, providing language assistance and facilitating interactions when needed.  In this way, students are supported in their new endeavor, but, of course, they are encouraged to exercise as much autonomy as possible as they gain confidence in their English skills and in their self-perception of their value to the community.

At the end of each semester, all students who have volunteered will be invited to a reception, and those who completed a specific number of service hours will receive a certificate of achievement that they can show with pride to friends, family, and potential employers.

Although the program is still in its infancy, student and faculty response has already been overwhelming.  An open orientation session scheduled a few weeks ago brought over 100 interested students and faculty members, and 50 students have filled out applications to participate.  Megan has not yet been able to bring her program to the hundreds of afternoon and evening students at Garfield, but she expects to see similarly exciting results.

Please feel free to contact Megan at if you have questions, would like to be a faculty volunteer, or know of specific volunteer opportunities that would be good choices for this program.


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