It happens every August—thousands of freshmen flock to Athens, the place they will call “home” for the next four years.

 

            When those four years are done, however, they follow their newly-secured jobs to other cities.

 

            Many students never see the other side of Athens besides the shopping and the bars—the side with the non-collegiate residents.

 

            One office at the University is working to change that.

 

            The Office of Service-Learning seeks to provide a different angle to getting a college degree—helping the community in the process of getting an education.

 

            The office provides resources and support for UGA faculty who want to provide service-learning opportunities for their students, according to the UGA Public Service and Outreach Web site. It was formed in the 2002-2003 school year, when the Office of the Vice President for Service and Outreach and the Office of the Vice President for Instruction partnered together to create the new office.

 

            Service-learning simply combines service activities (like volunteering) with learning activities, according to Learn and Serve America’s Web site.

 

            One often-cited example of service-learning happens when students collect trash from a river, analyze the trash that they find and share those results with the community to show how to improve pollution.

 

            Service-learning is popular across the nation, with schools from the University of Maine to the University of California having offices devoted to service-learning.  Georgia does not miss out on the trend, as such offices can be found at many universities across the state at schools such Georgia State University and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

 

            One way students are utilizing service-learning at UGA is through Project FOCUS (Fostering Our Community’s Understanding of Science).  Through this program, University students who are mostly majoring in science partner with Clarke County elementary school teachers to act as science specialists.

 

            The students visit classrooms at least three hours per week, Amber Jarrard, a graduate assistant in the Office of Service Learning, said in an email.  Students also have a one-hour reflection session each week, for which Jarrard is a teaching assistant.  The reflection session consists of a debriefing of how the week went for the students, as well as grade-level discussions to swap ideas and troubleshoot.

            “We generally just break down the events of each week,” Jarrard said.

 

            The course description for Project FOCUS stresses that the program is not a teacher training course.

 

            “Students are not required to have teaching experience or expected to be perfect teachers,” the description reads. “(They) provide a much-needed service and learn a little about themselves in the process.”

 

            One of the goals of the program is to develop “a sense of community involvement for UGA students that will continue after graduation.”

 

            The course is offered through the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. One to three credit hours are available, and the class is repeatable for up to nine credit hours.

 

            “Many students come back semester after semester,” Jarrard said.

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