Service-learning provides Bachelor of Education student with valuable experience

Maria Milanova believes volunteering with community organizations has better prepared her for the classroom


Clayton MacGillivray

As a future teacher, second year Bachelor of Education student Maria Milanova believes it is important for her to understand how students act and grow both inside and outside of the classroom. With this goal in mind, she took advantage of the Werklund School of Education’s Service-Learning option.

“I signed up for service-learning because I wanted a wider breadth of experiences that relate to education and I chose organizations that would give me as much variety as possible,” says Milanova.

For eight weeks, Milanova helped Grade 1 students improve their reading skills as part of a program offered by Calgary Reads. She then joined the ConneX Program  and supported a team of high school students as they created a book about bullying in partnership with a Calgary elementary school. Most recently, she volunteered with the Calgary Bridge Foundation for Youth  as a mentor for a high school graduate who was looking for advice on next steps.

The origins of the current service-learning program go back to the mid-1990s when community placements were added to the teaching program. Today’s iteration allows undergraduate students to volunteer with 26 community partners working in areas such as youth leadership, early literacy, entrepreneurship and mental health. Time commitments vary depending on the needs of the organization.

“Service-learning combines active service in the community with meaningful learning opportunities for BEd students,” explains Youth Leadership Facilitator, Michael Holden.

In addition to benefitting the parties involved, Holden says the partnerships also support the University of Calgary’s goal to integrate with the community.

“The wide range of topics available are relevant to our students as beginning teachers and we believe that Service-Learning is a direct example of the university’s energized Eyes High strategy – students who participate in service-learning contribute to a city of leaders and directly apply their experiences across Calgary and Southern Alberta.”

Holden adds that in 2017, 250 Werklund School students contributed more than 7000 hours of service through these placements.

“Some students, like Maria, work with multiple organizations throughout their time in the program, learning how different organizations approach complex problems in different ways.”

Milanova, who hopes to teach high school Social Studies after she receives her degree, is confident that her experiences have better prepared her for the future.

“I learned to take a step back from my own assumptions and biases and actually experience what students go through outside of the classroom.”

Though the time she spent volunteering exposed her to a variety of opportunities, Milanova says they add up to one important lesson.

“All of these experiences have shown me how critical it is to create positive relationships with students. Without these positive relationships none of the students I worked with would have felt safe with me, and if they did not feel safe, then they would have ignored anything I said, even if it was good advice.”

Learn more about service-learning on the Undergraduate Programs in Education website.