Community-Based Education through a Paraprofessional Model: An Experiential Learning Perspective of Peer Education

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Virginia Tech

In community-based peer education models, it is necessary to understand the relationship between learning, context and paraprofessional identity construction. Social relations are important in community education program implementation (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007); impacting power structure within communities and organizations (Cervero & Wilson, 1994, 2006; Forester, 1989). This study explored the conceptual and practical role of experience in a paraprofessional educator model and focused on the situated, contextual experiences of paraprofessionals in the communities they work and live as unique, challenging, and potentially positive for learning outcomes. Schön's narrative dialogue of reflection (1983) proved to be the essential missing piece in working with community educators toward successful development and autonomy.

In-depth qualitative interviews with 19 paraprofessional community-based peer educators with a state level family nutrition program contributed to findings relevant to how social context, critical reflection, and identity development influence an understanding of experience and the ability to impact knowledge and behavior change in clients. Individual interviews and focus groups allowed narrative exploration of topics as they evolved throughout the study; giving voice to paraprofessional program assistants in a way not previously done. The findings of this study provide insight necessary for the assessment of new conceptualizations of practice for paraprofessional models in expanding community impact and highlight the need for assessment of contemporary program delivery in a way that fosters the continual development of lay educators through reflective practice. Recommendations are made for a reassessment of historically significant program models in order to embrace paraprofessionals as more broadly defined socially mediated and socially situated influential practitioners.

peer educator, community-based, paraprofessional model, experiential learning, reflection, nutrition education