After-School Program Enriches Lives of Youth

Posted on: Tuesday, April 1st, 2014
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by Kevin Call
E&H student Hannah Fowler said service learning is a lot like holding up a mirror to see herself, a microscope to examine the world around her, and binoculars to help her envision a better future.

E&H student Hannah Fowler said service learning is a lot like holding up a mirror to see herself, a microscope to examine the world around her, and binoculars to help her envision a better future.

Fowler, a junior from Wytheville, Va., knows first-hand the many benefits that come from learning about the community. She and other classmates in Sociology 226 Family and Marriage taught by Dr. Julia Wilson were assigned to work with youth at Glade Spring Head Start and in the pre-kindergarten class at Meadowview Elementary during fall semester.

 The success of their work has inspired Fowler and two of her classmates, Tiffany Barr and Sara Nichols, to continue serving Glade Spring Head Start this semester through another service-learning opportunity offered by Public Policy and Community Service’s Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality.

Wilson is among many professors at Emory & Henry College who realize that service learning projects can be life changing for their students. For starters, students learn empathy for others, and may even get the real-life experiences they need which will inspire them to find a career. Service learning courses offer a unique opportunity for students to work in the community as part of their classroom curriculum and to relate what they are learning in class with their service work in the community.

“As a sociology professor, I teach how society impacts human behavior. I can talk about this, but until the students see it first- hand, it sometimes doesn’t click. I want my sociology students to live outside of the ivory tower, and service learning is one of the best ways to help all of us to engage with our community,” said Wilson.

The sociology service learning course brought together students from varying majors including sociology, public policy and community service, and psychology. “Because I have a variety of students from different majors, the service-learning component helped me to create a bond in class that I don’t think would have been there otherwise,” she said.

“There’s a special kind of value that you gain with service learning projects,” said Fowler, who worked with children at the head start program. “My participation in this service project reinforced the concepts we studied in the fall. Learning about the lives of these children in their everyday school environment really opened my eyes to what it’s like for children in a government-assisted preschool.  I have developed such a significant appreciation for what the Head Start program makes possible for these children.”

The sociology course taught in the fall was designed for students to explore many of the issues that affect families, particularly children, including race, class and socioeconomic factors. The class was divided with half of the students working at Meadowview Elementary and the other half serving at Glade Spring Head Start. Each student was required to visit their sites for one hour three times during the semester to interact with the children and learn about the environment of the facility.

Each group planned events for the children. Students who served at Meadowview Elementary organized a “Pastries for Parents” event that invited parents to the school for snacks while seeing what their children do during the day. Students who served at Glade Spring Head Start planned a fall festival for the children at Dunn Memorial Field in town. The event featured a variety of games, costumes, and treat bags for the children.

Among the 17 service-learning projects during fall semester and the 12 projects this semester, E&H students have partnered with Appalachian Sustainable Development’s Grow Your Own program; Abingdon Earth Day Fair; Ready Set Run, a character-building running program at Meadowview Elementary; Family Fun Day held at Emory & Henry; Project Discovery, a program to prepare local high school students for college; grant writing for various community partners; and Glade Spring Middle School’s “Visions of Glade,” a study that prompted the middle school students to think about the past, present and future of the town. Students also have conducted surveys for Habitat for Humanity, and Spanish students have worked with the Highlands Educational Literacy Program.