Engaging Students with Disabilities in Service-Learning: Findings from a Statewide Program Evaluation
Christina R. Miller, MSW, Florida State University and Jim Hinterlong, PhD, Florida State University.
Purpose: There is a growing need to identify effective strategies that enable people with disabilities to become fully integrated in their communities. School based service-learning is one promising approach for improving civic efficacy, or the belief in one's ability to engage in civic life. This presentation explores how one program model, Community Higher Education School Partnership (CHESP), leads to a more integrated adult life for students with disabilities. CHESP fosters the creation of partnerships between the community, higher education, and k-12 schools. Findings are presented from a state-wide qualitative program evaluation, conducted from April 2006 to June 2006. The evaluation explored how students with disabilities were included in the seven service learning sites throughout one southeastern state. Methods: Criterion sampling resulted in a sample size of 19; program directors (n=7), college professors (n=3) and college students (n=9). The sample was predominantly female (n=15) and Caucasian (n=15; 2 African Americans, and 2 “Other”). Data collection consisted of semi-structured interviews with three stakeholder groups: program directors, college professors, and college students. Participants answered questions about the program structure, their involvement, and inclusion of students with disabilities. Two questions regarding service-learning with students who have disabilities were identical across groups: How do you deal with issues of inclusion for students with disabilities? How would participation in service-learning benefit students with disabilities? Trustworthiness of the data were provided through the following strategies for rigor: triangulation of data and sources, multiple coders, and member checking. The data were triangulated through multiple forms of data: audio recordings, interviewer notes, and verbatim transcriptions. Inter-rater reliability was assessed by determining the ratio of coding similarities between coders. Member checking was accomplished by presenting the preliminary findings to the program directors. Transcripts were grouped by stakeholder group and coded using a literature based coding scheme. Analysis took place at the sentence level and responses were allowed to cross code. Evidence for themes was analyzed within and across groups. Results: Overarching themes that emerged in all three stakeholder groups are: inclusion (n=27), empowerment (n=16), group interaction/team work (n=14), and learning (n=20). Bridging themes, those identified in two of the three participant groups, are accessibility (n=6), exclude/no inclusion (n=7), normalization (n=8) and unawareness (n=7). Independent themes emerged within one stakeholder group. The independent themes are physical movement (n=3; program direcotrs), maturity (n=2; program directors), responsibility (n=6; professors), and good example (n=4; college students). Rater agreement ranged from 71% to 100% with a 50% outlier. Implications for Practice: Participants identified a variety of benefits for students with disabilities engaged in service-learning, indicating a need for involving students with disabilities in service-learning and developing tools to empirically assess the impact of those activities. The themes of empowerment, teamwork, learning, and normalization play a potential role in helping students plan for an independent and fully integrated adult life. The results suggest that inclusive service-learning is a promising strategy for students with disabilities. Future intervention research should develop assessment tools to measure the impact of service-learning on students with disabilities.