Tag Archives: service learning

Generation Citizen: Teach Teens to Make a Difference, While Fullfilling Your Core Service Learning



(Left to right) Tina Celani, senior and current chapter director of Generation Citizen USF, worked with 8th graders Magnus, Oak, fellow democracy coach and USF sophomore Noelle Garza, and 8th grader Tyler to create safer park access for middle schoolers at Kimball Park. (Photo courtesy of Tina Celani)

Are you interested in making an active change in the community? Teaching high school students about political action? Making middle school students feel safer in their own parks and playgrounds?

Generation Citizen is a non-profit organization that aims to solve problems in local communities through civic education. With the help of teachers and trained college volunteers called democracy coaches, Generation Citizen provides middle school and high school students the opportunity to directly participate in their local government through an in-class curriculum designed to get students to work with local leaders to address an issue relevant to them.

Tina Celani, senior communications major, is chapter director for the USF Chapter of Generation Citizen, which started on campus in the fall.

“There has been a huge lack of civic education for low-income students and students in general, and Generation Citizen helps change that,” Celani said. “By working with students to actively identify and address a problem in the community, you have them understand that they can make a change — you give them the opportunity to be important.”

Working as a democracy coach last semester, Celani and her class of 8th graders at the Creative Arts Charter School, worked to increase police presence at the nearby Kimball park.

“My students chose to focus on their local park because they felt really unsafe there,” Celani said. “What Generation Citizen does, is they really want to come up with the root of the cause and actively try to solve that, so after discussing as a class, we came to the fact that there weren’t enough police officers in Kimball park, and drafted letters and petitions to change that.”

Celani and fellow senior communications major Erin McCroskey, outreach director for Generation Citizen USF, are currently seeking student volunteers for the new semester.

Democracy coaches will be assigned a classroom of 15-30 students at a middle or high school in the San Francisco area.

Over the course of a twice-weekly semester-long program, democracy coaches teach a variety of lessons on local government and politics, and then work with their class to select an issue in their community they want to try and fix, like park safety, bus safety, or providing enough school supplies for students.

Then, coaches and students create a strategic plan to take action through various means like lobbying to elected officials through letters and petitions, writing opinion pieces in newspapers, and filming documentaries to create awareness of the issues at hand.

Democracy coaches can work individually or in pairs, and will always have the classroom teacher present with them when working. Generation Citizen provides step-by-step lesson plans to aid democracy coaches, who will meet on campus once a week to go over the lesson with their superiors.

At the end of every semester, Generation Citizen volunteers will have put in about 40 hours of classroom time, culminating in Civics Day, in which democracy coaches and student representatives from each class present their projects to other students, community members, and public officials, and sometimes win awards.

Last semester, Celani and McCroskey’s classrooms both received awards for their respective work in creating safer parks and bus rides.

“You don’t need to be knowledgeable in politics or education to volunteer,” Celani said. “Anyone who is interested in working with middle schoolers or high schoolers who are interested in becoming an effective and engaged citizens — anyone that likes to help to others; that likes to actively solve problems and work with other people; or that wants to gain a fulfilling experience — should apply.”

McCroskey echoed, “Being in Generation Citizen has taught me that education, in itself, is a social movement. I would recommend this organization to anyone and everyone.”

Volunteerwork with Generation Citizen can fulfill the service learning (SL) requirement for certain classes. Be sure to ask your professor if this will count for you.

To apply to become a democracy coach through Generation Citizen USF, visit the official website

    The final date to apply is next Monday, February 3, 2014. 

Student Witnesses Ironic Food Injustices of Central California

The people of the Central Valley can’t get enough fresh food, even though they live in the nation’s produce basket 

Imagine working in one of the vastest agricultural lands in the world; farming and cultivating mass amounts of produce for others, while having little to no food available for you and your own family.

Would you believe that a place that provides a quarter of America’s sustenance has little access to fresh food for its own residents? And that this place is only five hours from San Francisco?

While California’s Central Valley is home to the nation’s largest suppliers of fruit and vegetables, it’s also considered a food desert. Those who live there have to resort to cheap and unhealthy food options because grocery stores are few and far between. Senior Allison Littlefield experienced these harsh realities firsthand of a nearby locale.

From Jan. 7–12, the international studies student visited the cities of Bakersfield, Fresno, Modesto, Delano, and Merced as part of a University Ministry immersion trip. She traveled with three fellow USFers and Luis E. Bazan, who works with the UM and the Center for Global Education to coordinate these programs. The group learned about the current socio-economic issues affecting these communities.

In the case of Central Valley, what the residents need most is access to healthy and affordable food. “This is ironic considering the Central Valley is a huge agricultural land— the food they cultivate feeds the entire world, but they don’t have food to feed themselves.” Littlefield said she walked away from the immersion asking herself, “How does that make sense?”

Having participated in immersions through USF in Peru, El Salvador, and Ecuador, exposure to poor living conditions was nothing new for Littlefield; the fact that people are living like this so close to home astonished her. Experiencing these third world conditions in the first world was nothing short of an eye-opener.

“The most shocking image from the Central Valley immersion were the huge oil fields,” said Littlefield, referring to the polluted vast land in Bakersfield, which is home to acres of oil rigs. “For how environmentally conscious we think Californians are, it’s shocking that just five hours from San Francisco there is so much oil pollution. I didn’t know what was going on in my backyard.”

In Modesto and Bakersfield, dirty air exceeds federal health standards each day, according to The Huffington Post’s “California’s Central Valley Slammed By Record Air Pollution.” The American Lung Association reported that the areas from Stockton to Bakersfield, home to four million people, has the highest level of ozone pollution in the U.S. and asthma rates are three times the national average.

Talking to workers in Central Valley about the immigrant experience and injustices they face was premise of the immersion. The students learned about the Cesar Chavez United Farm Workers movement, which is in place to provide better working conditions and higher wages to farmers and their families. Visiting the families of farmers brought Littlefield an unexpected comparison: “I walked into a couple houses and thought, ‘Wow I’m back in El Salvador.’”

Making sense of it all is one of the goals of immersion trips like this one. “The term ‘service learning’ is misleading,” Littlefield said. “The focus is not going to ‘serve’ people. USF emphasizes solidarity and accompaniment.” USF distances itself from dividing, power structures of education and wealth by focusing more on the learning aspect, she said. Immersion trips to places like Central Valley aim to expose students to the issues inside a community so that they can learn about what people need before deciding how to take action.

“Going in and seeing what a community needs is the first step. You have to know what a community needs first in order to help them,” said Littlefield. She emphasized the importance of talking to organizations that are already in place to help people living in places like central valley, where people are dealing with social and economic issues.

After visiting the Central Valley, Littlefield called for two changes: a more just and sustainable means of producing foods, and spending money on education reform, instead of housing prisoners, to better adjust to children’s diverse learning styles. The immersion trip also brought to Littlefield’s attention the issues surrounding immigration in the United States. “The current immigration system violates human rights and we need to reform the system to allow the people that are here to have rights and establish legal and feasible means of getting citizenship.”

While the image of poverty, pollution, and shortage of food, does not usually bring to mind somewhere only a car ride away, Littlefield’s story is a reminder that these injustices are indeed happening in the United States. The shock of this trip however, gave Littlefield the motivation to create change in not only the Central Valley community, but her own as well: “Looking back I feel very motivated by the organizations that we met there. We spoke with them about how they are creating change within their communities, and I feel that I have people to connect with about making changes in my own.”

To get involved with USF immersion programs, contact Luis E. Bazan at lebazan@usfca.edu or go to www.usfca.edu/University_Ministry/Immersion_Programs.

Service Learning More Than Just a Requirement

I used to perceive service-learning solely as a way to meet a university requirement or to make students feel accomplished about doing something meaningful with our education. Although I do not  look down on this attitude, I now see that there is more to service-learning than simply those reasons. During my service-learning course last year, I volunteered at a homeless shelter in the Tenderloin, asking clients questions about homelessness. I got into a conversation with one of the clients there who was very critical of our intentions. He said there was a similar group there the week before asking the same questions and nothing had changed.  He asked me, why did I think what I was doing would lead to change? Whom exactly did I think I was helping? And why wasn’t I talking to people out across the street, away from my cozy group of friends?

His skepticism made me see service through another’s eyes.  Maybe, he was wrong and I was making a difference. But, maybe I wasn’t. The point is, service-learning experiences are not always clear, always perfect, or always heartwarming. Sometimes the point is to see the huge disparity between what we, as service-learners, are trying to achieve and what we are truly accomplishing. We are also there to see the discrepancy between what we are told about social issues and what we actually experience. Sometimes we see the immense distinction between our good intentions and what the end result really is.

To further explore these issues I became an Advocate for Community Engagement (ACE) to coordinate service-learning projects.  Service-learning aims to equally benefit students and the community through service that relates to academic coursework.  In the process students have the opportunity to open their eyes to these disparities, to inform class concepts with community realities, to practice the mission of USF, and truly, not shallowly, educate our minds and hearts so that we may become agents for social change.  I know it sounds like a tall order, and certainly idealistic, but we have to start somewhere.

ACEs work for the Office of Service-Learning and Community Action as well as at specific non-profit organizations within San Francisco. We act as liaisons between the non-profit, faculty, and students in service-learning classes at USF. We hold orientations, develop relevant service projects that relate to coursework, and facilitate written and oral reflections to connect ideas from the non-profit to the classroom and to larger social issues.

Performing research, serving a meal, tutoring a child: these are the first steps to starting real social change. Service-learning at USF provides the unique opportunity to go deeper, to get outside of the island that is USF, and to examine the hard questions through direct community engagement. Why do people suffer while others look on complacently? Why do our institutions seem to serve the rich rather than the poor? How can we shape the world to suit our real needs and not needs our consumerist culture?

The shelter client challenged me to take an honest look at these questions and I challenge you to do the same through service-learning.

Community Advocates Assist With Service Learning Projects in Tenderloin

Volunteers in TL

Community advocates sophomore Linda Szabados and senior Devon Davey serve meals at a community partner organization in the Tenderloin neighborhood. (Courtesy of Julie Reed)

While many students make an effort to avoid the notorious Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, other students are adjusting to the neighborhood through their service learning projects. To help students become familiar with the community and to make the most out of their service projects, the Office of Service Learning and Community Action employs several students as advocates for community engagement (ACEs) to act as “a liaison between students, teachers and organizations”, said Devon Davey, a senior international studies major and an ACE for the Glide Foundation, a homeless community center located in the Tenderloin.

The Office of Service Learning recently hired eight advocates for the 2009-10 school year, which will make it the largest team of ACEs. Brisa Rojas, a senior sociology major and an advocate for the St. Anthony Foundation, said “If you have a passion for social justice, this is the perfect opportunity to do something.” Rojas has been an ACE at St. Anthony’s for three years and also helped create the project that she maintains. She is currently facilitating service learning projects for USF students, in which they are working on presentations about homelessness and mental illness.

The advocate for community engagement is a unique opportunity because it provides students with an opportunity to extend their service learning project and expand their knowledge of pressing social issues, like homelessness, while also being paid by the Office of Service Learning and Community Action. ACEs make a one year commitment to work a minimum of eight to ten hours a week at their partner organizations. When professors use USF’s community partners, like Glide, for their service learning classes, they connect with an advocate to set goals for the students and provide course information so the project can be tailored toward the course objectives. Politics professor Corey Cook’s class, Housing and Homelessness Policy, has been working with Davey and the Glide Foundation this semester. His class is conducting a research project that will analyze San Francisco’s 10 Year plan for chronic homelessness and see if it is effective. He said, “The point of service learning isn’t just volunteering…it is to integrate (the service projects) into the classroom.” Cook said that Davey and other ACEs have been “very helpful” in facilitating the reflections that the students are required to submit. He said “The reflections have been much more rigorous and guided.” Although the research project has been difficult, Cook said that it will be useful for the community.

In addition to guiding service learning projects with professors, Davey and Linda Szabados, a sophomore politics major and ACE for the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco, occasionally provide direct services for their community partners. Szabados said that her direct service is tutoring children. She is also planning fundraisers to finance a summer camp program at Camp Mendocino for low income families. She said, “Service learning experiences are really important.” Stephanie Lottridge, a senior performing arts and social justice major, volunteered at St. Anthony’s for a capstone course. She was reluctant to work in the Tenderloin, instead she wanted to focus on a world issue like human trafficking, for her documentary theater project. Of working at the Tenderloin, a multi-cultured community, Lottridge said, “Trying to communicate is a barrier you have to work through. You learn how to do nonverbal communication.” Through her service learning project and interviews, she said “These people have so many voices to express.”

Rojas encouraged students interested in becoming ACEs or who are considering a service learning project to “Get out, learn and be out of your comfort zone.” She said USF’s community partners that are based in the Tenderloin, like the Glide Foundation and St. Anthony’s Foundation, are very well respected. She said that when she started working in the Tenderloin she was nervous, but she “realized the stereotypes weren’t true” and she “[learned] the reality about situations.” Szabados agreed and said that after meeting people and becoming familiar with the staff and clientele, she felt more comfortable. Davey suggested that students who are unsure of what they would like to do for their mandatory service learning project contact the Office of Service Learning, who can recommend an organization that reflects their interests.