1. Tyndall, Deborah E. PhD, RN
  2. Forbis, Kelly M. BSN, RN
  3. Sullivan, Wendy B. MSA

Article Content

Schools of nursing often partner with elementary schools to promote health in children.1,2 However, partnerships that promote service-learning with children can create authentic, real-world experiences for nursing students through the lens of community engagement. Service-learning involves structured learning experiences that combine community service with contextual learning to foster citizenship.3 Service-learning has been a valuable pedagogy to support social awareness and responsibility in both nursing students4,5 and elementary school students.6 The purpose of this article is to describe an innovative community-academic partnership that was established with a local elementary school. The partnership focused on a service-learning global health project that aimed to provide service opportunities for both populations of students.


Description of the Partnership

Since 2008, the College of Nursing (CON) has offered an international community health course that involves a 3-week cultural immersion in Guatemala. While in Guatemala, undergraduate nursing students provide health charlas, or "talks," to children on topics such as handwashing and dental hygiene. Recognizing a need for supplies to facilitate the charlas, the lead author reached out to an elementary school in the local community to initiate a partnership. The community partner served more than 500 students enrolled in primary education, kindergarten through fifth grade. This partnership focused on a collaborative service-learning project to collect hygiene items (eg, toothbrushes, toothpaste) to facilitate health education in Guatemalan schools. Nursing students who participated in the international course in Guatemala were given opportunities to participate in service activities during the 5 phases of the project. The 5 phases of the collaborative project included (1) partner preparation, (2) donation collection, (3) leadership recognition, (4) service in Guatemala, and (5) dissemination of outcomes.


Service-Learning Project

Nursing students who had recently traveled to Guatemala assisted with preparing the community partner for service-learning. It became tradition for the second-grade class to lead the school-wide project each year. The first phase of the project began with lectures in the fall to inform the second-grade students about the CON's global initiatives in Guatemala. These age-appropriate lectures were designed by the nursing students to increase global awareness and to equip the second-grade class to cofacilitate the project. Three lectures, staggered over a month, included discussions about the geography and culture of Guatemala, aspects of daily living for rural Guatemalan children, and principles of service-learning. Nursing students taught the second graders Spanish phrases, told stories about their experiences (eg, climbing a volcano), and shared artifacts they had acquired during their international studies as strategies to explore aspects of Guatemalan culture.


The lectures gave the second graders background knowledge they needed to lead the second phase of the project, the school-wide donation collection. It was essential to manage the incoming hygiene items for an equal distribution of charla supplies that could be reasonably transported to Guatemala. As donations came in, the second graders calculated the inventory of items by classroom. Announcements were made weekly on the school's news network letting the other grade levels know what hygiene items were needed most. To further assist the nursing students, the second graders painted paper bags with unique artwork (eg, State bird) to facilitate distribution of hygiene items during the health charlas. When donation collection was complete, the second graders collaborated with nursing students to organize the supplies for safe travel to Guatemala.


The third phase occurred each year in the spring to recognize the elementary school students for their service efforts. During this phase, nursing faculty and students coordinated leadership recognition events that offered unique experiences for the second graders. One year, the university's mascot made a surprise visit to the elementary school. In another year, nursing faculty and students coordinated a field trip for the second graders in which they visited the university and participated in health promotion activities in the CON's state-of-the-art simulation laboratories. These leadership events were sponsored by the CON and the local chapter of Sigma.


During the fourth phase, a new group of nursing students traveled to Guatemala each summer with the hygiene items to conduct their community service projects. Once in Guatemala, the nursing students packed hygiene items in the painted charla bags. They used the donated soap and washcloths to support handwashing charlas and toothpaste and toothbrushes to facilitate dental hygiene charlas. The elementary school had also collected boxes of crayons, which were used for interactive age-appropriate activities during the charlas. Annually, nursing students visited 3 to 4 rural schools in Guatemalan villages and conducted charlas for approximately 200 children.


The final phase of the project included follow-up visits to the elementary school by nursing students who had traveled to Guatemala the previous summer. During these visits, the nursing students disseminated outcomes of the project by sharing stories and photographs about their health charlas in Guatemala. Sharing these artifacts provided tangible outcomes, which gave the elementary students a better understanding of their contribution to the project. During these visits, it was tradition for the CON to give the elementary school a token of appreciation. These tokens of appreciation that consisted of art projects symbolizing the global project were created by the elementary students with the help of nursing students.



While many partnerships are formed to support educational capacity building and transition to practice,7 our partnership demonstrates how novel approaches have the potential to support service-learning development in students. Service-learning experiences are often created to support student development in higher education.8 Unique to our partnership were the opportunities for both nursing and elementary school student development.


We found one community-academic partnership focused on a 3-week civic engagement project where university students collaborated with elementary school students.9 In contrast, our partnership was grounded in principles of service-learning and included a collaborative project extending over the course of an academic year. The partnership was recognized by both the college and the county's board of education as an exemplary service initiative. Similar to the elementary school students, nursing students were also recognized for their service efforts. One nursing student (coauthor), who was involved in the service project since her sophomore year, received funding through an Undergraduate Research & Creativity Award. This award supported her senior honors research project examining the mutual benefits of the partnership.


Relationship building and trust are essential components of successful partnerships.10 After the first year of the partnership, both the principal (coauthor) and an instructor from the elementary school traveled with nursing faculty and students to Guatemala for a 1-week immersion. While there, the community partner assisted with the charlas. This experience strengthened our relationship, as the community partner was able to witness firsthand the CON's global initiatives and participate in international service.



This community-academic partnership fostered real-world learning, resulting in creating solutions to address a need that was implemented in a collaborative, multiphase project. Faculty engaged the nursing students in each step of the process to increase their understanding of principles related to service-learning and community engagement. Throughout the span of the 4-year partnership, more than 6000 donated hygiene items were collected. As a result of these donations, nursing students had supplies to conduct health charlas within Guatemalan schools reaching hundreds of children each year. The cost of these supplies was nominal in comparison to the potential benefit for these children in a resource-poor country. This partnership provides an exemplar of how novel approaches can support service-learning development in nursing students, as well as cultivating a new generation of service leaders.




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