By Gerry Boyle '78
Think of what it takes to get yourself, your family, your children to their various appointments every week. Now consider what it would be like to get some 160 Colby students and area kids together.
That's why Teresa Hawko '01 often is the one who turns out the lights in the Eustis Building at night. When Hawko, who coordinates, schedules, adjusts, fine-tunes and generally shepherds participants in the Colby Cares About Kids mentoring program, talks about commitment, she knows of what she speaks.
Hawko became interested in service learning as a student and this year is an AmeriCorps*VISTA worker at Colby and the CCAK site coordinator. Her work began weeks before the volunteers went one on one last fall with children in Waterville, Benton, Clinton and Vassalboro. Three hundred sixty people expressed interest in the mentoring program, although the number of participants dropped after the requirements were explained. Many students can't do both CCAK and a sport, for instance. And anyone considering participating was warned that they must be ready to make a firm commitment.
"Hanging out with a kid is going to be a definite step to take," Hawko said.
Though the benefits for the children are expected to emerge over a period of years, some positive effects are already being felt. "We do see a difference in truancy," Hawko said. The kids are always in school the day the mentor comes. Reading levels rise when a mentor reads aloud and goes through a book with them. They gain confidence "and can at least try to keep up with the academic pace," Hawko said.
As of last January, according to Moira Bentzel, guidance counselor at the Albert S. Hall School in Waterville, there hadn't been a single dropout on either side.
Critics of service learning raise liability issues posed by uncertified volunteers. And faculty have to give up some control when students' experiences don't fit into course paradigms. "But it's a myth that you'll lose academic rigor," Hawko said. "Service learning can fall into any discipline and be relevant."
"We're not looking to remodel Colby," she added. "We want to make it stand out."
And after Hawko goes her own way?
Colby has applied for another VISTA position, sponsored by Maine Campus Compact, and it was expected in March that the position would be approved. Two candidates (current seniors) already had expressed interest.
"Service learning is up and coming," Hawko concluded. "If we don't get on the wagon, we're going to miss the big bus."
© Colby College Colby Magazine Spring 2002 firstname.lastname@example.org