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 Students with disabilities to engage in service learning 

From Community College Times
February 14, 2006
Click here to download a PDF version of this article.


By Quintin Doromal

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) has awarded grants to eight community colleges to help college students with disabilities participate in community service and service-learning.

Through Project Reach: Service Inclusion for Community College Students, a three-year national initiative funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service, the colleges will develop opportunities for students with disabilities to participate in service learning and learn life skills to help with employment, careers and personal development.

Service learning combines classroom instruction with community service, focusing on critical, reflective thinking as well as personal and civic responsibility.

The selected colleges will be part of a national survey of disability support services programs to evaluate the role community colleges play in providing education and training to students with disabilities.

Below are brief descriptions of each of the eight projects:

Brevard Community College (Florida) will recruit students with disabilities to engage in civic activities while enhancing coursework and transitioning from college to careers. Through the Reach, Soar, Fly! program, these students will tutor K-12 students in Brevard County in reading and math.

Some student leaders with disabilities will serve as liaison to other students with disabilities, recruit peers into service learning experiences, and, in some instances, will work with other students as a team. Education, social studies, psychology and existing community service learning courses as well as non-credit preparatory courses will be part of the project.

Through its Human Ecological Stewardship course, Edmonds Community College (Washington) students with disabilities will train and mentor Woodmoor Elementary School students in water-wise gardening by cultivating native plants that will eventually be used in local habitat conservation efforts, including parks and the landscaping of homes built by Habitat for Humanity.

The students will be responsible for assessing needs, testing accessibility and mentoring younger students on how to use basic construction tools and equipment. Another opportunity for students with disabilities is through the college’s ongoing Building Beyond Walls project with Habitat for Humanity that builds homes for low-income families. Students with disabilities will participate in the activities while developing skills in construction management and trade skills.

Project Hands On at El Camino College (California) will offer students with disabilities a transition course from school to careers using service learning. The course, Education Development 21, or Career Exploration, will require the students to make a 10-hour commitment when they are paired with a mentor, whom they observe on the work site for an hour each week. This experience will allow students with disabilities, many who have no previous work experience, to understand the variety of work tasks at the job site.

At Henderson Community College (Kentucky), the Career Connections for Students with Disabilities program will teach students with disabilities about employability skills. It will focus on resume writing, interview techniques, job search and job marketing strategies.

As its service-learning component, students will help younger students enrolled in a developmental reading course. They will read age-appropriate materials to four- and five-year-olds enrolled in the Head Start class on campus. College students with disabilities in early childhood courses will be paired with students from a local elementary school to help them learn to read.

The Access through Service program at Miami Dade College (Florida) will offer service learning experiences to students with disabilities through the college’s disability support services office. Aside from identifying students already taking courses with service learning components, the staff will work with instructors to develop service learning programs or assist students in service learning courses. For other students with disabilities seeking service learning experiences, the college will set up one-day events.

Two students with disabilities will be hired as project assistants to promote the program and serve as liaison with their peers. A career program will provide career training and job placement assistance.

Service Learning Outreach, the program at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (Minnesota), includes a student organization, R.A.T.E. (Realizing Abilities Through Education) and a Web page to promote service learning activities to students with disabilities. Advisory meetings will be held with students to gauge how valuable service learning is to exploring careers.

The college’s career services office will provide workshops to guide students in networking with organizations, interviewing skills, and discussing ideas for disability accommodations with the volunteer sites.

Project SERVE–Students Encounter Real Vocational Experiences is the program through which National Park Community College (Arkansas) will participate. All first-year students in the program will tutor elementary school students, mainly in reading and math. Students with disabilities will also have access to career services, which will provide information on resume writing, interviewing skills and job fair activities.

Prairie State College (Illinois) will run its service learning program through Label Us Able. Students will participate in one-day service learning projects and will later reflect on the experience. Through the program’s career development services, students will be trained in resume writing, interviewing skills and job search techniques.

There will also be service learning workshops that focus on learning and work-related goals.

For more information on the program, visit

-- Doromal is manager of health and wellness programs at the American Association of Community Colleges.


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