Pamela Kirwin Heintz
With the support of a $27,982 grant from the University’s Vision Fund, the Center for Public and Community Service plans to expand curricular service learning opportunities on campus through the Service Learning Pedagogy Project.
The project aims to help build a community of scholars committed to service learning across academic disciplines. It focuses on four areas—active learning, collaboration, interdisciplinary involvement, and diversity. To more formally integrate service learning into the curriculum, CPCS director Pamela Kirwin Heintz and her staff, in collaboration with faculty, plan such activities as: Creating a service learning certificate program for undergraduates;
Making service learning courses easy to identify in the registration manual;
Establishing a residential service learning community for South Campus;
Hosting roundtable discussions, conferences, and a service learning fair;
Publishing a service learning brochure and newsletter; and
Helping faculty identify research opportunities, access resource materials, and learn about promotion and tenure issues as they relate to service learning pedagogy.
“The certificate program will provide faculty from different departments opportunities to learn from one another and share experiences,” says School of Architecture professor David Gamble. “The roundtable discussions and newsletter will greatly increase the visibility of service-based initiatives and create a critical platform to reinforce the values of our service learning efforts. This is a win-win situation for faculty, students, and the organizations they serve.”
Making a Difference
Each year CPCS coordinates and supervises hundreds of student volunteer placements in the Syracuse community. The SU Literacy Corps alone sends 148 tutors into the community year-round, providing 20,000 hours of tutoring for 1,850 children at risk. This innovative program was developed by CPCS in 1997 in collaboration with the Syracuse City School District and the School of Education in response to then-President Bill Clinton’s America Reads Challenge, which makes federal work-study dollars available to provide trained literacy tutors for elementary school students. “We modeled the SU Literacy Corps after the School of Education’s highly successful Franklin School Tutoring Program, which trains education majors to work with primary-grade emergent readers,” Heintz says. “However, Literacy Corps tutors represent a broader range of academic disciplines, and although they are volunteers to the school district, they receive a work-study stipend. That’s the only way some of them can afford to participate, and it ensures that our tutors are a diverse group.”
This year’s tutors are an interesting mix of students with a variety of majors, personal experiences, and ethnic backgrounds. Forty percent are African American; 47 percent, Caucasian; 9 percent, Latino; 3 percent, Asian; and 1 percent, Native American. “It’s exciting to watch students make connections to their own background and field of study and share these insights with other students,” says Stacey Riemer, associate director of CPCS. “I’m humbled by some of the experiences students bring back from their tutoring sessions—we all learn from each other.”
Michael Caldwell ’02, a television-radio-film major in Newhouse, started as a Literacy Corps tutor last summer. After three days of intensive training, he began teaching in the reading and writing center at Frazer School. “I worked with groups of 5 students at a time and the groups rotated,” Caldwell says. “Most days I worked with all 20 students, and I was very tired at the end of the day. But then we had to go back to CPCS for a debriefing. At first I was resistant, but I soon learned it’s important to get different perspectives and receive guidance from the group.”
Caldwell now tutors second-graders at Blodgett Elementary School along with Liz Occhino, a higher-education graduate assistant who helps coordinate the Literacy Corps, and Kenisha Bonner ’02, a speech communication and pre-law major in the College of Visual and Performing Arts and College of Arts and Sciences. Bonner says she looked forward to tutoring at Blodgett, which is 90 percent African American, Latino, and Arabic, because she grew up in the same neighborhood. “This isn’t just another work-study job for me,” Bonner says. “I feel I’m having a dramatic effect on these kids’ lives because I’m a role model for them, and maybe they’ll dare to dream they can go to college too. I know I’m making a difference.”
Blodgett classroom teacher Wayne Gillespie agrees. “The SU Literacy Corps tutors provide valuable assistance to meet the individual academic and social needs of my students,” he says.
Literacy Corps has been so successful that the 22 schools and 2 community-based organizations where SU students volunteer have made it clear that their need for tutors is never-ending. “Requests for help are exploding,” Riemer says, “and Literacy Corps is only 1 of 40 service learning initiatives that CPCS helps coordinate. We’ll never abandon quality for quantity, but that requires financial support, and funding is always a challenge.”