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 Tuesday, April 8, 2008 IssueFaculty/Staff E-Newsletter


Service learning class connects students and communities
by Melanie O. Massengale

During spring semester 2008, students in Laura DeLuca's anthropology 1150 service learning class are studying African cultures and assisting refugee children aged 8-12 who participate in Mercy Housing's Peace Pals program. Peace Pals' goal is to facilitate nonviolent collaboration of children from many diverse cultures. The CU partnering experience promotes student understanding of the challenges that African refugees face today. Students in the class combine community interaction with readings, guest speakers, films, discussion, a personal reflection journal and a final project.

Ben Limmer, a freshman in the class, was surprised by a Senegalese refugee fourth grader's refusal to accept help with his homework. "He carefully worked out each problem for himself, telling me he would never learn the material with me constantly providing assistance," said Limmer, a computer science major. "This urge to learn was fantastic to see."

DeLuca, an adjunct professor in the department of anthropology who works with the Smith Hall International Program (SHIP), emphasized the value of the service learning component of the class. Service learning combines classroom study with structured community work, providing hands-on opportunities for students to apply their class work to real life situations.

"Service learning is not just volunteering, it's becoming fully engaged and reflecting on your work in relation to course readings," said DeLuca. "There were a few awkward moments in the beginning, but the students jumped in and quickly became productive. Teaching assistant Lindsay Eppich (a senior anthropology major who just returned from study abroad in Kenya) helped students adapt to the new situation." Activities with the Peace Pals include brainstorming conflicts. Each child relates a personal challenge and the other children offer solutions while CU students offer insights.

Funding for the class is provided by the Institute for Ethical and Civic Engagement (IECE) and practical assistance has been offered by the Volunteer Clearing House (VCH). Larry Bell and Nancy Vanacore from the Office of International Education (OIE) afforded support as well. Under the auspices of IECE, Michael Grant, Martin Bickman and Peter Simons assisted in developing the service learning component of the course. "Anna Domenico of VCH was a great help. She made the contact with Mercy Housing and arranged for transportation," said DeLuca. "We also had the support of Community Youth Liaison David Hall and Sheryl Johnson, Mercy Housing's residential services coordinator."

Student commitment is key to the success of the course and to the connection with the children. Like Ben Limmer, student Mary Kate Frongillo was charmed by a child's interaction with her. She wrote in her journal, "(Bintou) sought me out…and a very unexpected thing happened: she confided in me. This truly [personalized] African culture. I feel more invested in this course from this one conversation compared with all the reading I've done on Africa."

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