BACKGROUND: Researchers, schools, and community organizations are increasingly interested in forming partnerships to improve health and learning outcomes for adolescents. School-based service learning programs with young adolescents have been shown to improve students' health and educational outcomes. Quality school-based service learning practice requires partnerships that are collaborative, mutually beneficial, and address community needs. This article examines core elements of a community-school-university partnership engaged in implementing and evaluating Lead Peace, a service learning program for urban middle school youth.
METHODS: The partnership was assessed through (1) semistructured group interviews with program facilitators at each school at the end of the 2006 to 2007 and 2007 to 2008 school years; (2) key informant interviews with school administrators; and (3) participant observations of partnership meetings. Qualitative analysis was conducted to identify common and emerging themes that contribute to the success of the Lead Peace partnership.
RESULTS: Ten themes were identified as keys to the success of the Lead Peace partnership: (1) communication; (2) shared decision making; (3) shared resources; (4) expertise and credibility; (5) sufficient time to develop and maintain relationships; (6) champions and patron saints; (7) being present; (8) flexibility; (9) a shared youth development orientation; and (10) recognition of other partners' priorities.
CONCLUSIONS: Partnerships that are essential to quality service learning practice require deliberate planning and ongoing attention. Elements of the successful Lead Peace partnership may be useful for other collaborators to consider.