In February, 2011 CCV-Winooski student Maleka Clarke traveled to the Achieving the Dream Strategy Institute in Indianapolis. She presented, with Academic Dean Linda Gabrielson, on the panel “Creating a Climate for Service Learning Success: How to Increase Student Learning, Engagement, and Retention.”
Clarke is pursuing an Allied Health Prep certificate at CCV and hopes to transfer into VTC’s nursing program. In her first semester she took Introduction to Nutrition, a class taught by Kimberly Evans, and on the panel she spoke about how service learning added to this classroom experience.
“We were required to establish a relationship with a group in need and determine what we could contribute,” she said. “This helps in two ways: it breaks down walls between the college and the community, and it helps students identify what they are good at and how they can help out.”
The nutrition class looked at the food program at The Underground, a center for Winooski teens. Instead of assigned problems or tasks, each student was asked to identify a way they could contribute. “There was a lot of flexibility about how we did our service learning,” Clarke said.
As CCV students established relationships with the teenagers, some discovered that a better cultural understanding-many teens were from Muslim homes-could help nutritionally. Another group of CCV students used their classroom knowledge to create dishes for the menu that included ingredients more familiar to the teens.
Clarke, an avid gardener, looked out a window and saw an abandoned garden in the lot behind the center. She organized a group that spent three Saturdays weeding, digging, and preparing the soil, so that this spring the center can participate in a farm-to-table program.
Clarke said that the experience made her think about nutrition in a broader context. “There are no grocery stores in many highly populated areas where people also do not have cars. This has an impact on what people eat-they eat what is available at a corner store. As a nursing student this is important for me to understand,” she says. “I feel really passionate about this experience: it has changed my image of what a student is. I’m taking ownership of my knowledge, and service learning made that happen.