University of Vermont

Office of Community-University Partnerships & Service Learning

A Hands-On Approach to the Fundamentals of Childhood Development

HDFS 001, an introductory level service-learning course, lays the foundation for entering the field.

Photo credit: Boys & Girls Club of Burlington

Professor Jacqueline Weinstock, Ph.D., of UVM’s Human Development and Family Studies Program, has been teaching community-engaged courses for nearly two decades. “I was teaching these courses before the CUPS Office opened, before the language of service-learning was present at UVM,” she explains.

For students in the Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) Program, Professor Weinstock began utilizing service-learning principles in a pragmatic approach to provide her students with the experiential learning that the program necessitates. As an introductory level service-learning course, HDFS 001: Intro to Human Development & Family Studies provides students with the foundational preparation that will allow them to enter the field in their capstone senior year experience.

HDFS 001 partners with the King Street Center and the Boys & Girls Club of Burlington, as well as the Boys & Girls Club’s afterschool program at the Integrated Arts Academy, focusing specifically on childhood development. These partnerships bring together local youth and UVM students, often from varying cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. With the Boys & Girls Club partnership recently reaching the 10-year milestone, and the King Street Center partnership nearing five, generations of HDFS students have supported the healthy youth development models of these two organizations.

Professor Weinstock’s students enjoy application-oriented learning — allowing them to connect topics from class to their own experiences in the field. Professor Weinstock emphasizes that “the service-learning experience builds students’ interest in the knowledge and theory of the academic material as they work out the issues in on-site.”

As one student recounts the emotional outburst of a child at her placement, “we have talked about emotional regulation in class discussions … if a situation like this occurs again, I want to see if I can handle it on my own and try to incorporate some of the emotional regulation steps … I also want to be more aware of how my actions can affect others and know the right times to act a certain way.”

In their entry into the HDFS Program, Professor Weinstock urges her students to learn to reflect more critically upon themselves and to see the youth within their own contexts and as individuals. “These connections help our students to develop the capacity for entering into another person’s perspective, and seeing things from their perspective, rather than projecting ourselves onto them,” she says. “Students learn to think about and connect with these populations from a strength perspective, rather than a deficit perspective.”

Professor Weinstock notes that while “as individuals we can’t always affect the kind of change we want to see,” students are able to be a part of the solution through engaging with the ongoing work of these community partners.

“If you want to do good, you oftentimes think you know what that means … but there’s a lot of good that’s going on already, and we need to learn how to fit in with what is already happening, rather than thinking that we know what is best. These two organizations serve their communities in ways that are very much focused on ‘what do you all have to offer?’ and ‘what can we create together?’ as opposed to ‘here are the problems and we’re going to come fix it.’”

Above all, she emphasizes the importance of bringing the mind and the heart together. “Our students come in with a heart of gold and a great desire to care, so the greatest reward for me is when they link the hard work and the study required to best do this caring work.”