LSU Students Partner With Grandparents Raising Grandchildren
BATON ROUGE – This semester, LSU students in English and human ecology service-learning classes teamed up with the local non-profit organization Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, or GRG, for writing and research projects with an added emphasis on families.
In English, students in Ann Martin’s ENGL 1001 sections partnered with GRG again for the fifth year in a row, while human ecology students participating in Jennifer Baumgartner’s Critical Issues in Childhood Education class worked with GRG for the first time.
GRG serves as an information and support center to kinship caregivers and their families, providing access to expert advice on legal matters such as custody laws, the establishment of legal guardianship and adoption. GRG facilitates monthly support meetings, where grandparents and caregivers share their experiences and receive guidance from others who have found themselves in similar situations.
In Martin’s English class, students design their own projects for GRG that focus on improving their writing skills.
“I really believe that the students need to have creative input,” Martin said. “That way we have student engagement at a higher level.”
Examples of projects that Martin’s students have produced include grants, fundraising letters, a quarterly newsletter, and copy for GRG’s website.
Baumgartner’s students, most of whom are future teachers, are researching resources and collecting information about other national grandparent organizations, which, will be helpful to GRG.
“The ultimate goal is to develop a database of contact information and resources to assist the GRG organization in the development and writing of grants as well as direct service,” Baumgartner said.
GRG benefits from the work of Martin and Baumgartner’s classes, but students also receive a unique learning experience they would not otherwise encounter in traditional class settings. This is the reciprocal nature of service-learning. Both Martin and Baumgartner acknowledge this relationship and value the learning experience provided by GRG.
Baumgartner, who teaches in the Family, Child, and Consumer Sciences division of human ecology, appreciates the unique learning opportunities her students are exposed to.
“The inclusion of the service-learning component in this class allows my students to learn about different types of families and be exposed to the issues that they face,” said Baumgartner. “While the students are learning about the critical issues for children/families, Internet search skills, asking questions of agencies, developing a database of information, and coordinating advocacy and service efforts, they are developing a product that should be helpful to a community agency.”
Martin also cites the benefits of teaching a service-learning class. By creating written works, such as grants, newsletters, or other forms, students’ writing is not left on the shelf, but lives and works in the real world. Martin believes that the writing projects her students take on for GRG is “the easiest way to learn strategies for writing for specific audiences and purposes.”
Pat Robinson, GRG project manager, is appreciative of LSU students and the work they have done. One of the largest goals GRG has is hosting a national Grandparents Raising Grandchildren conference in New Orleans in the next few years. Robinson said that two of the major challenges facing them as they develop the conference are “not knowing who the other Grandparents Raising Grandchildren groups are in the country and not knowing the national companies that would help sponsor a national conference for GRG.”
“Dr. Baumgartner and Dr. Martin’s students will help us gather this information,” said Robinson. “If we did not have the [students], we would have to put off the national conference for another six years.”
LSU’s partnership with GRG has led to some remarkable outcomes.
“Our Grandparents Center has made history in Louisiana,” said Robinson. “The students and faculty leaders at LSU have helped us make that history.”
GRG’s is one of few national grandparent organizations to lead housing efforts for grandparents raising grandchildren and to have published a commissioned report “The State of Grandfamilies in Louisiana.” GRG was also influential in supporting Gov. Bobby Jindal in proclaiming September as Grandparents Raising Grandchildren month.
“Students [have] helped us to get the word out about resources and events surrounding our mission, and by being the boots on the ground conducting interviews, helping to tell stories, and collecting data of interest to all of our stakeholders,” said Robinson. “They also gave us our first newsletter name ‘Grandpaper,’ which we love and still use today.”
For more information on Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, please visit http://www.lagrg.org/. To learn more about service-learning at LSU, please visit the Center for Community Engagement, Learning and Leadership at www.ccell.lsu.edu.