By Susan Jarosak, M.Ed.

Community-based service learning gives students an opportunity to gain experience in the field and learn more about their community. Fartun Idris, a bachelor’s completion student at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, is using her workplace as a service learning site so she can gain new insights about the needs of immigrant students seeking a high school diploma.

Idris works at Community Learning Project (CLP), an organization that offers adult basic education and English language competency for adult learners 18 years of age and older who may have difficulty finding a high school diploma program.

Idris, a student in the B.S. in Healthcare and Human Services Management program, is integrating her classroom learning into real-world issues that are important to her and to her organization—helping people succeed.

“I’m using the courses that I’ve taken in the program, such as ethical and legal issues, to think critically about issues and to find solutions,” Idris said. She also presents to classes on research projects she has conducted or studied.

Idris recruits the majority of new students for the school and helps them begin the process of navigating the educational system. The community aspect of the organization is especially strong at the beginning of the journey, as alumni of the school pass wisdom onto new students and share their textbooks and notes.  

CLP focuses primarily on students from foreign countries who immigrated to the U.S. before completing their high school education or their diploma is not accepted by the education system. The mission of the organization is to create a climate where learners will be challenged to use their minds well, work within a cooperative, develop a principled moral perspective, and be able to demonstrate mastered skills in a real-world context.

One of the most challenging obstacles for foreign-born students is the inability to produce evidence of completing high school or some college because their records have been destroyed. Idris and her sister each earned their high school diploma in Kenya, but were forced to go through the process again when they entered the U.S. Due to the language barrier, traditional GED programs are nearly impossible for non English-speaking students to pass, according to CLP’s Principal Dr. Terry Fenne.

At Saint Mary’s, students who are already working in the field can select a focus area that they want to improve and work with a community-based organization to research it.

“Students initiate and direct their projects in partnership with the organization,” said Susan Jarosak, M.Ed., program director and assistant dean of the Graduate School of Health and Human Services.

Students such as Idris gain civic engagement skills that not only help the organization, but also their careers as they gain leadership skills and new insights from problem solving—as well as the sense that they are giving back to their communities. No matter where they choose to serve, the opportunity to apply what they have learned in their program is vital.

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