Date of Award


Access Restriction


Degree Name

Doctorate in Education



School or College

School of Education

First Advisor

Rebecca Stephenson

Second Advisor

Kortney Hernandez

Third Advisor

William Perez


This qualitative case study examines the service-learning program at a charter high school (Austin Charter Academy [ACA]). The two-fold purpose of the study was to: (a) describe and explore the service-learning experience at ACA with attention to the structures of power shaping the program and (b) to examine the role of a White, female administrator in the service-learning program. The research questions for the study were:

  • How does one high school charter community describe their experiences in service-learning programs?
  • Who is being centered and what logics are being reinforced in service-learning projects?

The study employed a decolonizing, critical community-based service-learning framework (Santiago-Ortiz, 2018) as its theoretical framework, adding an examination of decision-making processes, structural designs, and power dynamics, and highlighting where ACA’s program perpetuates colonizing notions often found in traditional, mainstream approaches to service-learning.

By exploring the experiences of multiple stakeholders, this case study presented a holistic understanding of ACA’s service-learning program. Data for the study were collected through in-depth interviews with ACA staff and community partners, alumni focus groups, document analysis, and autoethnographic data. Using an inductive approach to data analysis, emergent themes were identified across data sources.

Findings indicated although ACA’s approach to service-learning has good intentions, when examined with a decolonizing framework one can see misalignment between vision and outcomes for students, staff, and community partners. Without a clear vision and approach, staff have diverse interpretations of service-learning, resulting in confusion for students and families. Additional findings highlighted access to programs have not been equitable, leading to disproportionate outcomes and the need for supports to be put in place. Examining the program from a decolonizing lens presented the ways the current program has upheld colonial notions and centered the academic setting and student need over the community.

The findings supported the need for ACA to build in reflective practices to shift their service-learning program from performative to providing authentic, meaningful learning experiences for all parties, in line with a decolonizing framework. Recommendations for policymakers and administrations include revisiting policies and program documentation with a decolonizing framework.