Student Leadership Development and Community Engagement

by BETH J. VANDERVEER, PhD

Beth is the Coordinator of the Recreation Studies Program/Gerontology Certificate Programs at Ohio University, College of Health and Human Services, School of Recreation and Sport Sciences. She primarily teaches in the Recreation Studies academic unit. She has been a teacher for over 25 years.

 Abstract
During the 2008 National Library Week, “Celebrate Reading,” a collaborative partnership with students in a Recreation Leadership course and faculty at Ohio University, Ohio University- Friends of the Libraries, Athens County Public Libraries, and Friends of the Athens Public Library was implemented in the rural Appalachia town of Athens, Ohio; home of Ohio University. This community activity was a meaningful leadership opportunity and cultural sensitivity program for the students and the rural Appalachia community folks. “Celebrate Reading” provided leadership opportunities as a means to connect theory with practice. Student learning objectives included: (1) to expand their experiences at the local community library; (2) to state an understanding how reading has changed over the years; (3) to explore their attitudes towards reading; (4) to know how this community engagement experience applies to leadership; and (5) to identify the diverse community needs and discuss in a paragraph how to meet these needs. At the local library, the program activities were open to the public and included: Circle Discussions About Reading, Lapsit Storytime, and Making Bookmarkers. This year, the 50th Anniversary of National Library Week was held promoting the National Library Week Theme: Join the circle of knowledge @ your library.

Introduction
Knowledge comes full circle at the library. The library is a place to go to explore, learn, grow, and dream. Over the years, many libraries have taken on a “user friendly” approach offering programs such as Yoga, Drawing, Piano Recitals, Concerts, Kids Cook, and Scrapbooking. Connecting, interacting and building cooperative relationships between individuals and our rural Appalachian community and the causes we care about is critical. Therefore, during National Library Week, “Celebrate Reading” was launched. With students and faculty at Ohio University, Ohio University- Friends of the Libraries, Athens County Public Libraries, and Friends of the Athens Public Library, this experiential experience served as a means to strengthen the connection with leadership theories, concepts and practice in a recreation leadership course. Leadership principles for “Celebrate Reading” included: (1) creating a learning environment; (2) envisioning a brighter future; and (3) strengthening commitment to results. The activity goals were to: (1) explore theoretical foundations of experiential learning within the context of collaborative partnerships and (2) design, implement, lead, and evaluate community program activities for “Celebrate Reading.”

Student learning objectives include: (1) to expand their experiences at the local community library; (2) to state an understanding how reading has changed over the years; (3) to explore their attitudes towards reading; (4) to know how this community engagement experience applies to leadership; and (5) to identify the diverse needs and discuss in a paragraph how to meet these needs. At the local library, the program activities were open to the public. They included: Circle Discussions about Reading, Lapsit Storytime, and Making Bookmarkers. This community engagement program is intended to strengthen collaborative partnerships, highlight the value of this pedagogical approach to learning by combining experience and theoretical knowledge, and share the goals and dreams for the community by creating a real, honest connection. The partnership proved to be effective in the areas of community connections, interaction, building of relationships about the cause we care about (reading), and promoting the National Library Week Theme: Join the circle of knowledge @ your library.

History of National Library Week
In the mid-1950s, research acknowledged that Americans were spending less on books and more on radios, televisions, and musical instruments. Concerned that Americans were reading less, the American Library Association and the American Book Publishers formed a nonprofit citizen’s organization named the National Book Committee in 1954. The committee’s goals ranged from “encouraging people to read in their increasing leisure time” to “improving incomes and health” and “developing strong and happy family life” (American Library Association, para. 6). Based on the premise that once people were motivated to read, they would support and use libraries, in 1957 the National Book Committee, a joint committee of the American Library Association and the American Book Publishers Council, recommended the establishment of a National Library Week. The first National Library Week was observed May 16–22, 1958 with the theme: “Wake Up and Read” (Nix, 2008). Again in 1959, National Library Week was observed with the “Wake Up and Read” theme repeated and the American Library Association Council voted to continue the annual celebration. In 1974 the National Book Committee disbanded and the American Library Association assumed full sponsorship (American Library Association, para. 8). First observed in 1958, National Library Week is a national event sponsored by the American Library Association and libraries across the nation each April. It is a time to celebrate the contributions of our country’s libraries and librarians and to promote library use and support. All types of libraries participate: public, school, academic, and special. Each year National Library Week is observed in April usually the second full week.

Student Leadership Development and University-Community Partners
University students in the field of recreation, faculty, staff, board members, community leaders and the public were actively involved in the “Celebrate Reading” activities that foster community membership, increase influence, and develop a collaborative and inclusive connection among community members. At the rural, local public library, the opportunity for students to lead and facilitate group activities, mingle and engage community members present was memorable. The program activities included: Reading Circle Discussions, Lapsit Storytime, and making bookmarkers.

Reading Circle Discussions:
Mr. Ray Wagner, emeriti from Ohio University, currently working for the local radio station WATH in Athens, Ohio served as the activity host. Ray is a well-respected member of the community and previously a Professor in the School of Interpersonal Communication. University students and community members talked with Ray about how reading has changed, favorite books, favorite authors, ways they became interested in reading, and why reading is important. The Reading Discussion Circle area was decorated with bright, colorful balloons capturing people’s attention as they entered the public library and with Ray’s magnetic personality conversations about reading flourished. Refreshments were also served

Lapsit Storytime:
This activity is for babies and their caregivers to enjoy songs, lap bounces and books. University students led and facilitated this activity by reading books, interacting with babies and caregivers, and assisting the babies to find playmates

Bookmarkers:
Making bookmarkers was another fun and memorable experience. Children from the neighborhood elementary school walked to the public library and made bookmarkers. University students lead and assisted with this activity. During the activity, university students and school children talked about reading. Some of the children personalized their bookmarkers and others made them for gifts.

Experiential Learning
Founded on the “art of doing,” experiential learning is something with the intended outcome of learning. While teaching requires the dissemination of information, data, and facts, learning requires absorption of that information beyond simple memorization for the purpose of testing. As a process, the goal is to provide information (teaching) in a manner that student’s have the opportunity to also experience (learn) the material. Inherent in this, is providing a deeper more personal level (an emotionally connective level) experience from a purely cognitive (thinking) level (Delamere, 2007). Experiential education is a learning model that begins with an experience followed by reflection, discussion, analysis and evaluation of the experience. Experiential educators promote learning through participation, reflection, and application to situations of consequence (Hunt, 1991).

Experiential Learning Process Applied To “Celebrate Reading”
Providing time for students to reflect upon what the “Celebrate Reading” experience means to them is essential for the transference of learning to occur. It is here where the reading activities are transformed from experience into learning. It is here where the students take a guided journey and time to reflect on the what, so what, and now what part of experiential learning. Following the program “Celebrate Reading,” student groups talk about the program and various leadership themes, such as decision making, delegation, time management, teamwork, active listening, communication, teaching, leading according to age groups, networking, and inclusiveness. In class, small student groups share different ways of understanding the experience. Reflecting upon their experience and connecting the experience to one or two course themes, relevant theme theories and leadership concepts are discussed in a two page written paper. Students are able to connect the theoretical knowledge and concepts from the various leadership themes with the lived experience of the activities during “Celebrate Reading.” How reading has changed over the years, why reading has changed over the years, personal attitudes and social attitudes towards reading, applying this experiential learning experience to recreation leadership, and recognizing and respecting community diversity is discussed in small groups. Inevitably students want to take their new found knowledge and advocate for reading. Some students write or speak with administrators and civic organizations about their positive learning experiences. Other students become involved in university and community literacy programs.

Conclusion
The historical significance of National Library Week provides a unique collaborative partnership for people and community organizations. Partnerships with Ohio University, Ohio University- Friends of the Libraries, Athens County Public Libraries, and Friends of the Athens Public Library strengthen National Library Week with the community program “Celebrate Reading.” The program activities facilitate experiential learning opportunities for students in the community. Benefits for the students include: (1) bringing substantive leadership topics “to life,” (2) providing “real world” insight, (3) developing experience and interpersonal skills, (4) establishing contacts for subsequent community service, internships, and employment, and (5) encouraging a service ethic.

References
American Library Association. (2008). National Library Week/School Library Media Month. Retrieved 04/30/2008 from http://www.ala.org/ala/pio/mediarelations/factsheets/nationallibraryweek.cfm Delamere, F. (2007).

An experiential approach to understanding physical disability. Schole: A Journal of Leisure Studies and Recreation Education. 22, 51–57. Hunt, J. (1991).

Philosophy of adventure education. In J.C. Miles & S. Priest (Eds.), Adventure Education. State College, PA: Venture Publishing. Nix, L. (2008). The Library History Buff. Retrieved 05/01/2008 from http://www.libraryhistorybuff.org/libraryweek.htm

MORE from COMMUNITY WORKS JOURNAL

EssaysArticlesReflectionsProfessional Development for K-16

click image to subscribe at no cost.

© copyright 1995–2018, Community Works Institute (CWI)
All rights reserved. CWI is a non-profit educational organization

CONTENT USE POLICY No material contained within this web site may be reproduced in print, by electronic or other means, without permission. All materials contained within this web site remain the sole and exclusive property of CWI, or the author if designated by arrangement.

About cwiblog

Community Works Institute (CWI) provides resources, professional development, and collaboration opportunities for educators. Our focus is on place based education, service learning, and sustainability.
This entry was posted in Place Based Education, Service-Learning, Social Justice, Sustainability, Teaching and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply