March 21, 2012

First-year neuroscience major Alex Wallace helps a student at Essex Place in Lewisburg with his homework.


By Julia Ferrante

LEWISBURG, Pa. - Just about every Wednesday during the spring semester, first-year student Joel Gonzalez and a group of classmates from Bucknell University have traveled to Essex Place to help young residents of the lower-income housing community with their homework. Most of the youngsters are learning English as a second language.

"If they don't understand something in English, we tell them in Spanish," said Gonzalez, who spoke Spanish at home and English at school while growing up in Los Angeles. "We get to practice our Spanish while helping the kids."

Gonzalez is applying lessons from Elisabeth Guerrero's Latino Literature in the United States course, which addresses such topics as civil rights, bilingual education and the politics of immigration. Guerrero is among several professors who have incorporated service into their course curricula this semester. Fellow Spanish professors Collin McKinney and Jason McCloskey, adjunct professor of sociology Carmen Henne-Ochoa and psychology professor Chris Boyatzis, who teaches a culture and child development course, also have made community outreach a requirement of the classes.

Amy Davis, an Americorps volunteer in Bucknell's Office of Civic Engagement, coordinates volunteer opportunities and transportation for the students to and from the volunteer sites. Taking care of those logistics makes it easier for professors to adopt a service component in their classes, while also meeting community needs. In addition to helping out with the Essex Place after-school program, Bucknell students are working with adult English language learners in another affordable housing community, tutoring children at the Shikellamy School District and translating documents from English to Spanish for local agencies.

"One of the requirements of the Spanish major is to speak the language outside of the classroom," Guerrero said. "The students still are perfecting their language skills, so this is a way for them to go out and practice. They hear expressions we learn about in class and use their language while making connections in the community."

The professors' commitment to service also has allowed the civic engagement office to expand programs to reach more of the community.

"This is best illustrated by the exciting addition of adult English classes this semester," Davis said. "I am thankful that so many professors are seeing service as a vital component of the Bucknell experience."

The students also learn about the experience of immigration, Guerrero said. One student, for instance, shared that some of the adults he worked with struggle to understand their own children, because they speak English too fast. Another student became aware through service that Puerto Ricans have U.S. citizenship, and that many have served in the U.S. armed services since World War I.

Henne-Ochoa gave the students in her Sociology 245: Remaking America class the option of exploring Latin American immigration issues through traditional library research or through community outreach. The students opted for the hands-on experience.

"I felt that one of the best ways my students could truly grasp sociological concepts and processes having to do with immigration would be to confront these head-on," she said. "We tend to talk about immigration in California, Florida and Texas and forget that we have immigrants in central Pennsylvania."

The students are required to complete at least eight hours of service, keep a journal and give presentations in class about their experiences. They also must develop research papers exploring issues of immigration that emerged while doing community outreach.

"Through hands-on experiences, I believe my students are in a better position to question their own taken-for-granted views, as well as see for themselves how certain immigration 'truths' are reified, exposed in a different light, or altogether turned on their head," Henne-Ochoa said. "The students are getting as much out of the experience of service as they give."

D.K. Yun, a sophomore management and Spanish major, said he finds the work rewarding and applicable to lessons in Guerrero's class. Recently, he helped a young girl at Essex Place with her homework and a crafts project. The girl's parents are learning English as a second language.

"It's good to work with kids and give back to the community," he said. "I like kids."

Morgan Ramos, a first-year animal behavior major in McCloskey's advanced Spanish class, agreed.

"It's fun. As a freshman, I really would not be getting off campus without this," she said. "I like doing something different and helping the kids."

Alex Wallace, a first-year student in McKinney's advanced Spanish class, said she plans to continue volunteering after her class requirement is fulfilled.

"Now that I've gotten into it, I'm thinking about coming back regularly," Wallace said.

Contact: Division of Communications

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