The Center for Civic Engagement, or CCE, Brown Bag Series meeting this Tuesday featured a presentation by CCE Leadership Coordinator Lauren Stemler ‘12 that provided students with an opportunity to learn about the benefits of Community Based Learning (CBL) and involvement in the local community.
The talk began with an introduction to CBL. With over 15 different placements and 25 community mentors this year, the program has expanded significantly since its inception. Stemler explained that students are often given the opportunity to implement their own ideas when it comes to activities at their placement sites. Additionally, many students who take CBL courses go on to join the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, or other similar volunteer programs after graduation. Director of CBL programs, Brenda Papineau, explained that one of the goals of the CBL program is to enable students to build marketable skills that will enable them to be successful in their future volunteer efforts.
There are CBL courses available in many departments, including the foreign language, sociology, psychology, and education departments. “Interaction with the community is definitely the overarching goal that we have,” said Stemler, who discussed a wide range of volunteer opportunities. Reading Buddies is a program in which participants read with third or fourth graders and ultimately help them make their own books. Local farms such as Birdsfoot Farm and Bittersweet Farm give students the opportunity to harvest food, lay down tarps, build fences, and do other agricultural work. Additional placements can involve working with the elderly at Maple Wood Campus, volunteering at day care centers, and assisting in meal preparation for community dinners.
Dr. Liz Regosin who teaches a First Year Program with Dr. Jenny Hansen entitled “Making a Difference,” said her class “explains our American democracy and looks at the relationship between an active citizenship and his or her place in that democratic system.” The class utilizes CBL as a core element and requires that students draw on their volunteer experiences in class discussion. “We consider their community placement to be one of the course texts,” said Regosin, who added, “as much as they’re serving, they’re learning.” This experiential learning is a key component of CBL courses. In volunteering off campus, students are also able to escape what many call “the SLU bubble” and learn to see the North Country through the eyes of its permanent residents.
After taking Dr. Regosin’s FYP and doing SLU Buddies at St. Mary’s school in Canton during his sophomore year, Jarell Roberts ’12 undertook an independent study. His project involves being a tutor, friend, and mentor to the students that he works with at St. Mary’s school. “The most important thing that I learned through the CBL courses is that no matter who you are you can make a huge difference in someone’s life. And by making that difference in their life can then change yours for the better, because then you can realize who you are,” said Roberts.
Jordan Dewey ’13 first became involved with CBL after taking a politics class. He is also currently doing an independent study with Dr. Regosin that involves working with members of NYSARC, who are mentally and sometimes physically disabled. According to Dewey, “I would strongly recommend these courses for other students if they have passion or interest for learning more about community service or who want to help others in some way.”
Papineau and Johnson have noted that many students who take an FYP that has a CBL component go on to take an FYS, or another related course, that contains CBL. “They end up doing a couple of different ones, and that’s what we’d like to see continue,” Johnson said. On average, there are four FYP and FYS offered each year that contain a CBL aspect. “The students are usually happy with their placements, but I especially like it when students challenge themselves,” said Papineau, who has seen students with little background in certain volunteer positions embracing experiences that are outside of their comfort zones. Some such students find it difficult to connect initially with their placements, but ultimately end up continuing to volunteer for the program even after their class requirements are over.
Typically, 200 students take CBL courses each semester. Johnson and Papineau say that they would ultimately like to see a CBL department that has classes in all different disciplines across campus. However, obstacles to the advancement of CBL do exist and include a lack of both public transportation and interested professors. “I think faculty are a little hesitant because teaching a CBL class is a lot more difficult than teaching a regular class,” said Papineau. The inclusion of reflection activities such as writing journals or blogs and having class discussions about CBL in addition to required class content can be challenging. In designing CBL courses, many professors have to start from scratch.
CBL courses culminate in the Festival of community based learning, which will take place at the end of the semester on Wednesday, December 7 from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. Students who have taken CBL courses this fall present their experiences in a conference setting. Stemler encouraged interested students to drop by and speak with peers who have experienced Community Based Learning.