Strong partnerships with K-12 schools are a University of Iowa tradition, but service-learning projects can turn just about any course into a chance to connect with schools and other organizations.
Witness Doug Baynton’s Topics in Deaf Studies course. Baynton, an associate professor of history, teaches this course in American Sign Language (ASL) and augments readings and classroom discussions with community-based experience. Last fall, several of his students turned teachers themselves, offering ASL lessons to third and fourth graders at Iowa City’s Longfellow Elementary.
The University of Iowa Center for Teaching’s service-learning initiative helps faculty and students link academic coursework with community needs and concerns, channeling student interest in volunteer work into projects that help them learn course content through service.
The approach yields creative collaboration. Early this year, the Center for Teaching teamed with Hancher Auditorium and UI College of Education faculty to develop projects around a performance by the Cashore Marionettes troupe, which portrays not storybook tales, but poignant scenes from everyday life.
UI art education students worked with art teachers from the Iowa City Community School District to create a curriculum about making and using marionettes. (Marionettes crafted by the teachers are on display at Blick Art Materials, 201 S. Clinton St. in Iowa City, through March 18.) Meanwhile, counselor education students joined school counselors to develop ways of discussing the Cashore performance and the issues it raised.
UI students drafted the lesson plans and curriculum materials, but local teachers and counselors refined and adapted them. The process illustrates how service learning isn’t just about volunteering time, but collaborating to address real needs in ways that benefit all partners involved.
When it comes to University-school connections, of course, the real beneficiaries are the kids learning to sign, making a field trip to Hancher, or enjoying other products of partnership.