Mei-Hsi Chen, a fourth year student in laboratory medicine and pathobiology, plays a game with the day care students while they wait for the results of the invisible ink message experiment. (Photo by Kelly Rankin)

U of T students reach out to the community

Alternative Reading Week offers service-learning opportunities

This year, more than 200 University of Toronto students participated in what is quickly becoming a Reading Week tradition.

In its fifth year, Alternative Reading Week Days of Service is an opportunity for students to experience first-hand the importance of community service and citizen engagement.

Led by U of T’s Centre for Community Partnerships (CCP), in collaboration with the Learning Enrichment Foundation (LEF) and 15 other community organizations and schools, this three-day co-curricular service event puts students together with community agencies in Toronto’s Mount Dennis neighbourhoods.

“Part of our goal is to help build partnerships and community within these neighbourhoods,” said Karen McCrank, co-curricular service-learning co-ordinator at CCP. “It is a great opportunity for students to build citizenship skills and encourages them to carry on with long-term service work.”

Starting in April, McCrank recruits 20 student volunteers to begin planning and co-ordinating the following year’s program. During the week of service, these volunteers work as team leaders for one of 40 community-based projects, including science outreach, reading stories to preschoolers, art projects and teaching children to skate.

“It’s a high level of responsibility,” said McCrank. “I think they take it on because they see how meaningful the event is.”

Mei-Hsi Chen, a fourth year student in laboratory medicine and pathobiology, has been a student leader for the past two years. An advocate for science outreach, Chen planned and organized science activities for four Mount Dennis daycare centres, including Roseland Day Care.(See video below.)

“I want to encourage a curiosity about science,” she said.

Prior to the start of the service projects, CCP provides students with pre-service workshops to develop their leadership skills and an orientation session to learn more about the diverse community where they’ll be working. Students also have a chance to reflect on their service experience during and after the Reading Week programs.

McCrank said this year, a team leader for the Keelesdale Park TTC art project reported that some of the students in her group made comments such as, “I didn’t understand what community meant until I took part in this project.”

“These kinds of reflections are what service-learning is about,” added McCrank.

Students interested in finding out about co-curricular service- learning opportunities should visit the CCP website.

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