The University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Service Learning Academy currently operates a curriculum connection program called the P-16 Initiative. Just two weeks ago, the P-16 Initiative received the Engagement Scholarship Consortium’s Excellence in Community Partner Engagement Award.
The program’s purpose is to connect area schools in the Omaha Public School (OPS) system and UNO through service learning initiatives in their respective communities. University participants must be able to investigate the issues, prepare themselves and their team, act, reflect on progress made, demonstrate the work done afterward and evaluate the relative successes and failures. Through this process, (IPARDE), students are able to better work in their communities.
“It gives them an opportunity to apply what they’ve been learning in the classroom to their experience within the community,” said OPS’s Director of Equity and Diversity Barry Thomas.
On the university side, the goal is to educate students as to what work is needed in their community and how they can help.
“Every student is provided an opportunity to learn the way that they learn best,” said LaTrina Parker, UNO P-16 coordinator.
The premise behind the initiative is that UNO students collaborate with OPS students from all grade levels on filling a specific community need – helping seniors, fixing minor problems in infrastructure and bettering other community initiatives.
“I believe amazing work is being done in OPS schools, so to be able to partner with OPS teachers, to work with students, to see the impact they have on the community is great,” Parker said.
So far, UNO has involved over 20,000 students in the program across more than 600 projects. OPS has involved 16,000 of their students in those same projects. Organizers hope collaborations like these will foster a connection between K-12 students and university students and staff.
Parker said that the award validates the type of community engagement the initiative is meant to involve.
“It holds it up to say ‘this is what we should be doing, and we should continue it,’” Parker said.
The Engagement Scholarship Consortium, a collaboration of universities from across the U.S., was originally created as a way for universities to collaborate and share information about community work. It has since grown into a nationwide initiative to promote student engagement in their communities.
For more information regarding the service learning academy and the P-16 Initiative, visit www.unomaha.edu/service-learning-academy.