6. Champions for Health in the Community: Critical Service Learning, Transformative Education, and Community Empowerment
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98 6 Champions for Health in the Community: Critical Service Learning, Transformative Education, and Community Empowerment Karen Meaney, Jo An M. Zimmermann, Yongmei Lu, Gloria Martinez-Ramos, and Jacquelyn McDonald Champions for Health in the Community initiated from a critical service-learning (CSL) program embedded within a physical education teacher education methods course at Texas State University. What began as a challenge to preservice educators to explore health disparities among low-income families residing in San Marcos, Texas, progressed into a multifaceted project consisting of five phases (see figure 6.1). Students’ participation in CSL initiated a community-based participatory research project (CBPR) that ultimately resulted in transforming students’ understanding of social injustices as well as faculty’s perceptions of CBPR. Moreover, uniting CSL and CBPR provided a venue for empowering community members to voice their concerns regarding environmental barriers that negatively impacted their family’s health and physical activity. Conceptual Framework Social cognitive theory (SCT) (Bandura, 1986, 1999) served as the theoretical framework for both the CSL program and the CBPR project. SCT suggests that human learning occurs within a dynamic framework and initiates interaction between one’s personal factors, environment, and behaviors. These dynamic relationships constitute an interactive model referred to as triadic reciprocality (see figure 6.2). Champions for Health in the Community | 99 Within the model of triadic reciprocality, personal factors may include one’s motivation , self-efficacy, knowledge, fears, and expected outcomes. The environment is perceivedinthreestages :imposed,selected,andconstructed(Bandura,1999).One’simposed environment includes the way things are—that is, situations an individual must interact with on a daily basis (e.g., neighborhood, school, work, and family). While individuals may have minimal influence over imposed environmental factors, they do have choices in how they interpret and react to imposed factors. These choices regarding how one reacts to the imposed environment constitute the selected environment. The resulting behaviors, the third aspect of triadic reciprocality, become one’s constructed environment . Construction of one’s environment demands actively engaging in one’s surroundings and may often result in the acquisition of new knowledge, beliefs, and behaviors. The service-learning environment is designed to connect scholastic knowledge and civic engagement. Through active participation in authentic learning situations, students are provided opportunities to unite theory to practice. An essential component of service, learning requires that the student’s service attempt to meet a genuine need in the community. Through engagement in guided reflection activities, students link academic content to their service experiences (Cress, 2005). CSL incorporates the core elements of traditional service-learning curricula and extends the paradigm to embrace social change (Mitchell, 2008). Specifically, the classroom and community components of CSL are founded on the idea of students as agents for social change working to redistribute power through developing authentic relationships with community participants. Consequently, the CSL environment is central to students’ learning. The imposed, selected, and constructed environment is also a core component of CBPR. CBPR is a collaborative process that unites researchers and community residents to collectively design and implement studies and programs that ultimately result in social change. Within CBPR, the environment influences both community and university members’ learning and behaviors. Specifically, mutual respect between university researchers and community members is critical (Wallerstein & Duran, 2003). CBPR has been used to improve public health outcomes for at-risk communities (Minkler & Wallerstein, 2008). This dynamic process enables researchers and community members to work as partners and ultimately leads to enhanced communication, trust, and rapport between both parties. CSL and CBPR emphasize the central role of the community–university collaborative environment to promote social justice. Combining a CSL program and CBPR study is an ideal forum to raise university students’ awareness of society’s disparities and unite students, faculty, and community residents to enact change. Phase I: Critical Service Learning CSL is embedded within the ESS 4624-Principles and Practices for Teaching Physical Education undergraduate course. A primary goal of this course is to enhance 100 | Meaney et al. undergraduate students’ understanding of the need for evidence-based physical education curriculum programs and instructional strategies. Examining pedagogical research and understanding learner variables (e.g., gender, socioeconomic status, cultural beliefs, values, geographic location) that influence participation in lifelong physical activity are also instilled throughout the course. Readings, discussions, and learning activities focus on increasing students’ cultural competency for teaching. Additionally, the course embeds a CSL program that challenges preservice educators to gain an understanding of as well as assist in combatting barriers youth raised in low-income families face in...