INTRODUCTION: At many colleges, service learning is an important component of their students’ education. In our Human Services Department, service learning is built into the curriculum, with students needing to complete three 100-hour internships before graduation. I oversee the internships of about sixty students who provide services in a variety of settings: human service agencies, nursing homes, substance abuse clinics, hospitals, group homes, and schools, to name a few. As the end of the semester draws near, students often have difficulty saying goodbye to their clients, but this necessity can also offer students a boost in self-esteem. As Francine Ward says, “Self-esteem comes from doing esteemable acts.” (2) In other words, making a difference in someone else’s life, through service, actually makes us feel better about ourselves.
The closing activity that I use for my student interns can be adapted to any service project that students do outside the classroom. Even if you are not involved with students in a service learning project, your relationship with them will come to an end at some point. Whether you work with students as an instructor, counselor, advisor or some other capacity, you’ll find ideas here that you can adapt for bringing positive closure to that relationship. At servicelearning.org, you’ll find ideas for service projects appropriate for nearly every discipline, including math, English, engineering, communication, education, and science, to name a few. For example, one project incorporates learning about and helping the South Asia tsunami victims. You’ll find that problem-based learning of this sort helps students apply classroom knowledge to real life and build their self-esteem as well.
TIME: One 40 minute class and one 30 minute class, plus time for students to journal outside of class. I suggest starting this activity approximately 4-6 weeks before the end of the semester.
- To promote positive closure of client/student relationship established in a service-learning project.
- To strengthen students’ self-esteem
- Handout #1: Closing Cases and Terminating with Clients (appended below)
- Handout #2: Saying Goodbye to Clients: A Personal Journal (appended below)
1. Discuss Handout #1: Closing Cases and Terminating with Clients (appended below) (20 minutes).
2. As a class, brainstorm activities that students could do that would help them say goodbye to those they have served. Write student ideas on the blackboard. (20 minutes)
3. Assignment: Choose and perform one or more activities for closure from the list. My students completed the activities on their own at their internship sites. After completing the activity, students write a journal described in Handout #2: Saying Goodbye to Clients: A Personal Journal (appended below).
4. In class after students have completed their activities and journal entries, discuss the journal questions. Underscore any comments that students make about how giving to others made them feel better about themselves. (30 minutes)
I am impressed by the activities that students designed as projects to say goodbye to clients and “give back” to them at the same time. Let me share a few of the students’ projects:
- One student, whose internship was at a state-run nursing home, designed a holiday bulletin board for the residents, decorated a tree, and gave each resident a present with his or her name on it. The presents had a flap that, when lifted, revealed a special trait or quality that the student recognized in the resident. As she wrapped each present to put under the tree, she told us, it helped her think about each resident and say goodbye to him or her. She also realized that she had received a gift from each client, in that she had learned something important from each of them.
- Another student, whose internship was at an elementary school, wrote a letter to the class. In the letter, she talked about her positive experience and said goodbye to the students. She read the letter to the class. She told us she was shocked at how many students were sad to see her go. Even “shy” students, with whom she had had little interaction, said they would miss her. It was an opportunity for the students, many of whom have grief and loss issues, to express their feelings about her leaving. During this student’s discussion of her internship, other students in the class realized the poverty and needs of these elementary school children, and they decided to collect and donate pencils and erasers to give to the children.
- A third student, whose internship was at a domestic violence shelter, felt she did not have a long-term relationship with the women at the shelter, due to the women’s short stays. However, she wanted to say thank you to the staff and recognize the needs of the population in general. She organized a toiletry drive at our college. She collected items that were in short supply, like soap, toothpaste, shampoo, baby items, etc. and donated them to the shelter.
- One more student, whose internship was at a community mental health clinic, decided to continue her service to the agency. She will serve on the Board of Directors. As the student said goodbye to the clients she worked with, she was able to tell them that she would be changing her role from student intern to Board member. The student said that via this activity of saying goodbye to clients, she realized how much she liked and how much she had learned from the agency. This is an example of how a student might continue civic engagement, even after the internship is over.
I was surprised by several things during this activity. First, I realized that most students did not (initially) understand the importance of appropriately terminating with clients. Nor did they know how to say goodbye to clients. Many students underestimated their impact on clients. Students also minimized their roles at community agencies. During the activity students said things like, “I’m only there one day a week…. Not all the students know me…. Some of the residents have dementia and they don’t even remember me.”
After the closure activity, I saw students constructing new and uplifting meanings regarding their experiences. For example, they were now saying things like, “This was a great experience, I can’t believe I don’t want to leave these kids, I feel so sorry for them, and I wish I had done this for my last internship” One students added, “I can’t believe that giving these kids something as simple as a pencil and an eraser made an impact on their lives. When I was a kid, if I was given a pencil by someone, I would’ve been like, ‘Wow, big deal.’ But these children have so little, it made me see how by just giving a little we really can make a difference.”
Evidence that students achieved the outcomes of positive closure of student/client relationship and increased self-esteem came from their reflective journals. Students wrote statements such as the following (unedited):
I didn’t realize that giving made me feel good, too.
I can’t believe that they asked me to stay on as a board member!
I felt so sorry for the people there; this was there life, their existence, inside these four walls. I can’t believe doing something so simple made them feel so good. It felt good for me too.
I think I will volunteer at a soup kitchen this winter.
I went outside my comfort zone and stood in front of the class to read the letter. I realized I have come a long way from the beginning of the semester.
I’m glad I took the opportunity to say goodbye to them.
Saying goodbye for me isn’t easy, but I’m glad I did it the right way.
This activity made me think about myself and my positive impact on other people.
By just giving a little, we can really make a difference.
What I learned about my students was that many of them felt powerless to help the clients at their internships because the clients’ needs often exceeded the agency’s resources. This activity is a way for students to understand that, despite challenges, they have made a contribution to the lives of their clients.
Helping students get involved in community service was a rewarding experience for me as well. I feel good knowing my students’ self-esteem was enhanced through their civic engagement.
(1) Baird, Brian. (2005) The Internship, Practicum and Field Placement Handbook: A Guide for the Helping Professions (4th edition). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education.
(2) Ward, Francine. (2003) Esteemable Acts: 10 Actions for Building Real Self-Esteem. New York, New York: Broadway Books.
HANDOUT #1: Closing Cases and Terminating with Clients
1. Ethical Considerations and Termination
*Student internship may end before client’s treatment ends.
*Failure to properly end the relationship with clients can cause them to have feelings of abandonment.
*Student should transfer each client to an agency employee so client’s care can continue.
2. Understanding Client Reactions to Termination
*Common feelings clients have about termination: anger, betrayal, sadness, anxiety, loss, abandonment.
*Client reactions to termination are often based upon previous termination experiences with interns or counselors.
*Client reactions to termination are often based upon previous termination experiences in relationships.
3. Understanding Intern Reactions to Termination
*Intern’s feelings about termination vary depending on length and depth of relationships with clients.
*Saying goodbye to clients can be as difficult for the student intern as it is for the client.
*Interns need self-awareness about how their own life experiences, such as transitions, affect how and when they say goodbye to clients.
1. When is it appropriate to start the termination process with your clients?
2. Which clients of yours might have a hard time saying goodbye to you? Why?
3. How might your own thoughts about the end of the semester influence the way you say goodbye to your clients?
4. In relation to your internship experience, what are you grateful for? What have clients given you? What has your supervisor given you?
5. How might you incorporate saying both goodbye and what you are grateful for into an activity at your internship?
Adapted from Baird (1).
HANDOUT #2: Saying Goodbye to Clients: A Personal Journal
Use the following questions to guide you in journaling about saying goodbye to your clients.
*What activity did you do to say goodbye to your clients?
*How did the activity go?
*How did you feel about it?
*How did your clients feel about it?
*How did you feel about giving back to your clients at the end of the semester?
*Did the activity help you say goodbye to clients?
*Did you go beyond your comfort zone? If so, how?
*What other ways do you give service to others?
*How does giving to others make you feel? Give specific examples.
–Beth Potter, Faculty, Human Services Anne Arundel Community College, MD