Designing a Service-Learning Program in New Orleans

If you’ve been following Global Weeks on Facebook or Twitter, you probably know that one of our bigger projects has been designing a weeklong service-learning program in New Orleans for a group of high school seniors from Trinity School in New York City. After months of planning and preparing, the program is currently underway! Students are doing service with with Jericho Road Housing Initiative and GroundWork New Orleans, exploring the Hidden History of the 1811 Slave Revolt in the French Quarter, listening to jazz at Preservation Hall, and touring the National World War II Museum, among many other historical and cultural activities. You can expect a post about how the program went from Vicki’s perspective after the program wraps up, but I first wanted to share a bit about the design process.

The students after a debris cleanup at Bayou St. John

The students after a debris cleanup at Bayou St. John

We first wrote the contract to develop this program back in October when I started my SIT Graduate Institute practicum with Global Weeks. While the school boasts an impressive Global Travel Program, they have never offered a domestic service-learning program. Within the parameters of developing an environmentally-focused service program, we had a completely clean slate. For me, this was equal parts exciting and daunting. I was thrilled to have the creative freedom to build a program, and overwhelmed at where to begin.

While six months may seem like plenty of time to develop a weeklong program, we were actually a bit late to the game. This week is spring break for many students around the country, and many schools offer annual service trips to New Orleans. By October, many volunteer bunkhouses and service organizations were already booked solid for the spring of 2015. I can’t tell you how many inquiry calls ended with another organization scratched off our list of potential partners; had our search been limited to internet resources, we might have been in trouble. Fortunately, one of the many perks of Vicki’s 30 year career in global education is a wealth of connections in the field. We reached out to her professional networks, former students and colleagues who had lived, worked, or traveled in New Orleans, tapping into resources we otherwise would not have found.

Throughout the design process, this was Vicki's mindset: We Can Do It! (photo from the National WWII Museum in New Orleans)

Throughout the design process, this has been Vicki’s mindset: We Can Do It! (photo from the National WWII Museum in New Orleans)

We used backward design thinking to map out the big picture learning outcomes and develop measurable goals and objectives. In collaboration with the team at Trinity, we drafted the program description, mapped out the daily itinerary, and surveyed students about what they wanted out to learn and experience. This was all new for me. When I’ve developed programs in the past, I’ve always worked for the school or organization offering the program — I’ve understood the inner workings, policies, and culture. Consulting in this way was an iterative process, moving forward while also stepping back to reevaluate, continually checking in with the program goals to make sure the service and curricular activities were in alignment with the learning outcomes.

In January, we went on an exploratory trip to New Orleans and met many of the people we had connected with. They, in turn, connected us with more people, and we began to develop our own network of community partners. As we fine-tuned the schedule, we relied heavily in the relationships we had built. When we wanted to know whether or not a museum exhibit was worthwhile, weasked them. When we needed to find a driver, we asked them. When we wanted to figure out a way for the students to experience ExhibitBE, a collaborative graffiti art project at an abandoned apartment building on the West Bank, it turned out that one of our contacts was friends with the artist who made the entire installation possible. She was able to arrange a personal tour for the Trinity students — an opportunity we would have never had without her. Having “eyes on the ground,” so to speak, allowed us to vet organizations and activities that we didn’t have time to experience on the exploratory trip.

This is what most people see when they go to ExhibitBE: CLOSED.

This is what most people see when they go to ExhibitBE: CLOSED.

What I have loved about designing this program has been its collaborative nature.  As consultants, Vicki and I worked together to create the program from the ground up in collaboration with stakeholders from the school and New Orleans. We’ve been able to use our experience to help a school create a program they had the desire but not the capacity to build.

After this first year Trinity School plans to run the program annually over spring break, keeping what worked and adjusting as necessary to fit their school’s needs. In the end, the recipe for a successful program was a lot of research, a lot of reaching out, and a number of serendipitous encounters.


Stay tuned to the blog for Vicki’s post about her experience leading the New Orleans program!

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