By: Suzanne Letellier, Milwaukee AHEC
MILWAUKEE — Mary Evans, a medical student from the Medical College of Wisconsin, led three of Milwaukee AHEC’s Youth Health Service Corps (YHSC) members in a five-week service learning project. YHSC is a Milwaukee AHEC program for high school students interested in exploring health care careers by volunteering in the community.
Milwaukee AHEC places high value on the involvement of medical students with YHSC service learning projects. Valuable mentoring happens naturally and informally throughout the project planning process. Mary served as a wonderful role model and mentor during her time with Milwaukee AHEC’s YHSC program.
Service learning acts as a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with academic study and reflection. Through teaching and learning, participants are allowed to apply academic, social and personal skills to improve their community. An alternative to community service and volunteer work, service learning highlights the student’s knowledge and growth as they design and implement their own service project.
The YHSC service learning team chose to research the effects of self-esteem on social, mental and physical health in teenage girls. The group titled their project “Uplift Yourself: Self-Esteem & Confidence.” The team members, led by Mary, developed a work plan, identified community partners, organized the project, came up with a list of materials and budget and designed ways to evaluate the project. The students also identified barriers and developed plans to overcome them.
The team partnered with a local non-profit, City on a Hill, specifically its youth summer program. On July 23, 2014, the YHSC members presented a self-esteem presentation to nine girls ages 11-17. The YHSC team also facilitated three self-esteem building activities. When asked if the teens opinions of themselves were more important than others opinions, 88% said their opinions of themselves were most important. After the hour and fifteen minute self-esteem presentation and activities, the post survey results showed that 100% of the girls thought their opinions about themselves were more important than their peers’.
YHSC participants engaged in ongoing reflection writing activities that allowed them to connect the service experience to learning objectives and consider their role in community change. While writing in their reflection notebooks after each of their bi-weekly meetings with Mary, students reflected on things that worked and did not work, what surprised them, what made them proud and how they were personally affected by the project.
Other positive impacts occurred during the project. When asked in a pre-program survey, YHSC members all replied neutral on a scale of strongly disagree to strongly agree to the statement, “I am comfortable with my body.” At the culmination of the project, the students who completed the post-program survey stated that they agree or strongly agree.
The YHSC members on the service-learning team were able to assess their leadership skills, gain an increased responsibility toward their communities and become confident in their presentation skills. According to Mary, “Their (the YHSC Service-Learning Team) participation helped create a positive attitude towards self-esteem and health and provided them an incredible opportunity to sharpen their leadership skills and continue to develop confidence when working with a team of peers. Because the participants were involved in the entire development process, they took direct ownership and pride in the project, providing improved and more successful results.”