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As a medium-sized, state-supported youth corps, the Wisconsin Conservation Corps (WCC) is an established institutional expression of a service corps model that has potential to address some of the educational and economic needs of marginalized young adults from "at-risk" environments. The WCC is a "second chance" work experience program that attempts to prepare 18 to 25 year-old unemployed young adults for employment or continuing education while they complete useful conservation work throughout the state. It is largely a white, male, rural-based program that maintains some crews in the black and Hispanic urban core of Milwaukee. This case study critically examines WCC response to the educational needs of corps members in Milwaukee.

Corps member education is shaped by organizational context and the larger organizational context of the WCC leaves little room for effective corps member education in Milwaukee. The Corps is nested in historical, political and cultural contexts that emphasize military structure, rigid discipline, cultural inflexibility, imbalance in gender values, narrowly defined technical skill education and, most important, control. As expressed through individuals within the Corps who mediate or exaggerate their impacts, these organizational characteristics do not fit in the inner city of Milwaukee. They leave little organizational space for an effective corps member education that is flexible, holistic, relevant, critically reflective and based on supportive mentor relationships.

Suggested actions to create more educational, organizational and political space for an alternative corps member education include: deemphasize state-wide, standardized corps member curriculum; support street-relevant local curriculums; expand educational vision beyond technical skill training and corps member work roles; create a culture of learning within the Corps; reemphasize "service" concept as a vehicle for corps member and community education; implement a service learning approach; recommit to the WCC "spirit" or "sacred core" of community service and corps member opportunity as a guide for organizational action; deemphasize the military organizational metaphor as a guide for service corps operations; support political action that facilitates community service.

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