Mentoring as a service-learning experience is associated with gains in students’ capacity to contribute to making a positive difference in their community (Banks, 2010). Leadership for Educational Attainment Developed through Service (LEADS) is a leadership program whereby middle and high school students have the opportunity to participate in service-learning projects that are important to them. The LEADS program is designed such that University of Central Florida (UCF) students work with the Evans High School students as mentors to develop leadership skills through service-learning projects to help address social issues in their community. Once they have identified their project, the LEADS Coordinators create fun and engaging curriculum that integrate leadership, communication, and teamwork skills. By partaking in the program, LEADS participants learn the importance of education and self-discovery through reflection. The present manuscript (1) introduces the audience to the LEADS program, (2) investigates key learning outcomes for LEADS participants, and (3) identifies collaborative efforts between LEADS Coordinators (mentors) and participants that yield quality end-of-semester service-learning projects.
Mentoring Through the LEADS Service-Learning Program
Mentoring, in the historical sense, has been defined as an individual – the mentee, entering into unidirectional relationship whereby the mentee is molded by an individual – the mentor who is of greater position, age, and/or wisdom as well as appearing complete and capable. (Kochan & Trimble, 2000). According to Dean (2009) a mentor is an astute and trusted counselor or teacher while the mentee is a protégé. “This term conveys not only the counsel of a mentor who is more prominent or influential, but also that the mentor is guiding, protecting, and promoting the protégé’s career, training, and overall wellbeing” (p. 3).
More than thirty years of studies on mentoring provide direction on positive outcomes for mentees when mentors promote manners such as engaging in open communication, offering acceptance, building trust, and respecting mutuality (Crosby, 1999). This includes adult learning and service-learning as well. For example, a case study that utilized a nonprofit partner with a university program demonstrated a programmatic avenue whereby traditional college students play a critical role serving as mentors for adult learners as well as challenge past literature on young people mentoring adult learners (Plante & Truitt, 2016). Mentoring as a service-learning experience is associated with gains in students’ capacity to contribute to making a positive difference in their community (Banks, 2010). A study found correlations between service-learning mentoring and outcomes related to the development of civic-minded students: self-esteem, problem solving skills, and community service self-efficacy (Weiler et al., 2013). With the right mentor, mentees will learn a variety of things, including being tolerant of others, supporting peers, building trust with others, and understanding one’s own passion, motivation, and values (Dean, 2009). Examples of great mentorship within service-learning is evident in the LEADS program.
According to Plante, Currie, and Olson (2014), “Besides enrolling for classes, getting involved is the single most important thing one can do as a student…” (p. 89). LEADS (Leadership for Educational Attainment Developed through Service) is collaboration between the University of Central Florida’s Center for Community Partnerships (CCP), managed from their Volunteer Center, and Evans High School ∙ A Community Partnership School. LEADS is a leadership program whereby middle and high school students have the opportunity to participate in service-learning projects that are important to them. The LEADS program is designed such that college students from the University of Central Florida serve the Evans High School students as mentors to develop leadership skills through service-learning projects to help address social issues in their community. Once they have identified their project, the LEADS Coordinators create fun and engaging curriculum/lesson plans that integrate leadership, communication, and teamwork skills. By partaking in the program, LEADS participants learn the importance of education and self-discovery through reflection. The goals of the program are to: (a) increase school and civic engagement; (b) proliferate leadership knowledge, skills, and abilities, and (c) further develop student appreciation for and understanding of the importance of educational attainment.
LEADS was formed as a result of the Commonwealth Corps. The Commonwealth Corps, a state-type AmeriCorps program, was developed by Governor Deval Patrick as an opportunity for nonprofits, higher education institutions, and the like to apply for funding that would support the mission of the Commonwealth Corps – to increase volunteerism in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Dr. Matthew Roy, Director of the Leduc Center for Civic Engagement and Deirdre Healy, Assistant Director at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth developed the LEADS program, which was among the 20 entities that received the 3-year grant from the Massachusetts Service Alliance. There were seven Commonwealth Corps members who served in eight different LEADS classes during and after school in six different middle schools and one high school spanning through two gateway cities of Fall River and New Bedford, MA (Plante, 2010).
There was an opportunity to expand the LEADS program into Florida in 2016. Dr. Jarrad Plante, who managed the LEADS program in years two and three of the initial Commonwealth Corps grant while working on his Master’s in Public Policy, got permission from his mentors, Matt and Deirdre, to replicate the program at the University of Central Florida, where he received his doctorate of education. Discussions were had with top leadership within the Center for Community Partnerships in the College of Health and Public Affairs in conjunction with Evans High School ∙ A Community Partnership School to work out logistics, programming, and funding to make the LEADS program operational.
Fall semester 2016 was the pilot of the LEADS program at Evans and was facilitated with their Student Government Association (SGA) class. Lesson planning and curriculum facilitation was led by two LEADS Coordinators in COHPA’s Nonprofit Management and Leadership program. The social topic the Evans students chose to focus on was “Respect” to address the need within their campus community. Their end-of-semester project was a Respect Fair, where the LEADS student participants set up informational booths and team activities that made this educational campaign focused on “Respect” fun and effective – engaging over 200 students, faculty, and staff during two separate lunch periods.
The Minority Leadership Office within the Orange County Public School district heard about the LEADS program and wanted to leverage the LEADS program in their Minority Leadership Scholars (MLS) class and thus expanded the program from one class to two classes. The CCP Volunteer Center opened up another search for additional LEADS Coordinators and hired a student leader from the College of Education who became the LEADS Coordinator and near-peer mentor for both classes, SGA and MLS, during the spring 2017 semester.
The SGA class continued on the social topic of “Respect.” They divided into 5 teams and implemented activities on one sub-topic of respect at lunchtime: Diversity (poster of different flags that spelled out D-i-v-e-r-s-i-t-y and took pictures of students “‘repping’” their country); Honor (passing out inspirational messages with chocolate kisses from student to student or student to faculty); Empowerment (UCF Business Fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi, engaging with students about college); Success (banner with various professions with students indicated where they were aspiring to be by sticking a star underneath); and Creativity (hand prints on a mural with their names dedicating themselves to respecting others).
The MLS class focused on career exploration and set up a networking event called Industry Inspired – engaging over 240 students and 12 professionals from 6 different industries to network and become knowledgeable about various professions and the paths to move into those careers. The LEADS participants engaged 6 classes, 12 teachers and administrators, 240 students over 2 class periods. Though the LEADS program was in only 1 of the 2 MLS classes, the 5th period class led their peers in the 4th period class by coordinating and executing the event for the student body. This was well-received and may become an annual event as career exploration helps with retention and persistence toward graduation.
In an appreciation for the hard work that the LEADS participants from the two Evans High School classes did for their campus community, the UCF Center for Community Partnerships invited them on to the UCF campus for the first UCF LEADS Youth Summit on Community Engagement, modeling what UMASS Dartmouth had done. On May 2, the last day of finals at UCF, LEADS hosted 40 students and five chaperones from Evans, and facilitated by the spring semester LEADS Coordinator and mentor. After welcoming our guests onto campus, the LEADS students participated in a meet-and-greet with UCF Student Government Association and President’s Leadership Council Student Leader Marklyne Joachim, Order of Pegasus recipient Barbara Mendez Campos, and Founder’s Day Award winner Massiel Hernandez. High school student leaders interacting with college student leaders offered an organic mentoring opportunity. The conversation continued as the youth summit transitioned into a mini service project facilitated by Goodwill Industries of Central Florida. Students, chaperones, and volunteers assembled 934 hygiene kits and delivered to the Homeless Network of Central Florida. It was the first time that Goodwill Industries of Central Florida had ever done a remote service project away from their home facilities. Students got the opportunity to have a college dining experience at one of the residential cafeterias, ’63 South, for lunch and continue that “college life” by taking a tour of campus via a scavenger hunt competition. The event concluded with a recognition ceremony whereby the LEADS Coordinator compiled pictures for each of the classes and developed a video; students introduced their project(s) and received certificates of service. With reflection being a key component in service-learning, the LEADS Coordinator, asked for the student participants to verbally and openly reflect upon their experience on the LEADS program.
Some comments from the LEADS student leaders included: (1) “LEADS helped me to be a better leader because it helps you to take initiative; it helped us progress to be a more responsible and leader,” (2) “LEADS helped me find, develop, and master the process to be an effective, efficient, exemplary leader,” (3) “LEADS helped me with organization and when you organize things you can improve your life,” and (4) “LEADS helped bridge the gap between high school students and adults to come together to make the community better.” The MLS teacher also provided feedback, “Thank you for allowing Ms. Elif Kelly to work with my students on a life-changing project. Thank you for allowing your team to expose my students to new planning techniques, organizational processes, and time management. It was a great learning experience for both the students and me.”
The LEADS program has had much success both being run through UMASS Dartmouth and University of Central Florida. In Massachusetts, The Commonwealth Corps hosted an end-of-year banquet in the .406 Club at Fenway Park to recognize the volunteers who participated in various projects throughout the year. For the hard work and innovative project to help address a community need of poverty, 15 students from two different middle schools were showcased in front of hundreds of their peers to present their project of creating a Food Pantry at their middle school to address the local need, and received a commendation, a medal, from the person who created and funded the Commonwealth Corps, Governor Deval Patrick. The unexpected gesture further empowered the students to become lifelong change agents.
Evans High School wanted to recognize a LEADS participant during their Honors Convocation at the end of the school year. They drafted a letter inquiring about scholarship support and, thanks to the support from on-campus partner, UCF Student Outreach Services, a future University of Central Florida student was awarded the Academic Enrichment Award – a scholarship that will pay tuition and fees for eight semesters at UCF and is valued at $47,623! The LEADS program, Coordinators/mentors, and student participants have also been featured in several publications including:
Paying it Forward: Transplanting the LEADS Program in Florida
Evans High School Leaders Participate in Youth Summit
Evans High Graduate Begins College Career at UCF with Full Scholarship
LEADS Coordinators act as near peer mentors when serving student participants, working with student leaders on teamwork, communication skills, problem-solving, project management, and other skills. These are all forms of mentoring that the LEADS Coordinators provide to the participants throughout their journey in the program. The student participants in LEADS not only become leaders among their peers and within their school and local community, but as more experienced and seasoned individuals, they become mentors during and upon completion of the LEADS program as well – establishing a new generation of leaders and mentors serving our community as citizens and together achieving participatory excellence (Plante, 2015).
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Plante, J.D. (2015). Published dissertation: Institutionalizing Service-Learning as a Best Practice of Community Engagement in Higher Education: Intra- and Inter-Institutional Comparisons of the Carnegie Community Engagement Elective Classification Framework. Orlando, FL: University of Central Florida.
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