Looking Back and Moving Forward: 537 Clarion

Taken during our regular hours, this photo shows a typical day during which we have 10-12 local students drop in for homework help or tutoring and an average of six University student volunteers. Most of the University students in this photograph are enrolled in Rich Lane’s ENG 400 course, Applied Literacy Studies.

A typical day at 537 Clarion: Six members of Rich Lane’s Applied Literacy course help 10-12 local students

— Leah Chambers and Rich Lane

This spring marks the fourth semester since the opening of the 537 Clarion: Community Learning Workshop, which provides drop-in homework help, tutoring, and educational programs to residents of Clarion and surrounding communities. And as we look forward to a third year, we want to take the time to reflect on how the project has grown and become established in the community. When we applied in the Fall of 2012 for the grant that would seed the project for its first two years, we didn’t know exactly what we were getting ourselves into. We now realize that, in addition to providing much-needed services to the community, we are working toward something even bigger: a true University-community partnership that depends on the support of those at the University but also the expertise and support of community residents and stakeholders. This project is now in a crucial phase of its development, and as we reflect on the past two years, we also look forward to its continued growth.

For a more detailed description of the first year, see the video below, written and produced by English student, Sam Nolan ’14:

Since the fall of 2013, nearly 400 Clarion University students from across disciplines, including Psychology, Communication, English, Speech Pathology, Education, Art, Spanish and Biology have staffed the workshop, as well as developed and facilitated evening programs related to their disciplines. For example, as part of their capstone experience in Psychology, students in Jeanne Slattery’s senior seminar course have partnered with the Workshop to conduct community-based research that will help us determine the effectiveness of current programming and what programs we might offer in the future. And for the past two years, students in Marité Haynes’ Child Psychology and Developmental Psychology courses have collaborated with local children to create books for and about the children. (See photo below.) We are grateful for the support of our colleagues across disciplines, which has allowed the Workshop to become a hub for service-learning across the University.

Clarion University students (left to right) Kimberly Drake, Jesse Marshall, Anastasia Laird, Caitlyn Kaufman, Morgan Seybold and Lauryn Greggs with IC student Jacob Zacherl. These students were enrolled in Marité Haynes’ Developmental Psychology course and for a course project, collaborated with Jacob to develop a book in which he was the main character.

Jacob Zacherl, IC student, and Marité Haynes’ Developmental Psychology students: Kim Drake, Jesse Marshall, Anastasia Laird, Caitlyn Kaufman, Morgan Seybold and Lauryn Greggs.

Our popularity in the community also continues to rise. Although most of the K-12 students and adult learners who visit the Workshop are from Clarion, we also have clients who come from Knox, Rimersburg and as far away as Tionesta. All of this adds up to approximately 1,000 afterschool visits and 400 visits for evening programs in the past two years. We have also collaborated with local teachers and community organizations, including Head Start, to develop programs that meet particular literacy needs.

Making "wishing stars" during author Suzanne Bloom's visit in 2014.

Making “wishing stars” during author Suzanne Bloom’s visit in 2014.

In addition to its measurable impact on University students and on the community, the Workshop has impacted us as teachers, researchers and scholars. Our day-to-day experiences at the Workshop have reinforced our understanding of the myriad of barriers, socioeconomic, cultural or otherwise, that students must overcome in order to achieve academically. As teachers, it’s important to not take for granted or dismiss the complicated home lives of our students that inhibit their ability to learn. Through their one-on-one work with students, our Workshop staff members, comprised primarily of future elementary and secondary teachers, have learned invaluable lessons about treating each student as a person with unique interests, values, needs, advantages and disadvantages. The Workshop provides these students with a “real-world” opportunity to apply the content from their courses.

Developing the Workshop has provided both of us with the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of scholarship and what counts as scholarship in academia. Most academics are passionate about their disciplines and fuel that passion with research, field experiments, and synthesis of the work of other scholars. Sometimes they involve undergraduate students in their work but, most often, research is a solitary endeavor. This research most commonly produces texts — articles, books and book chapters — that are the accepted form of scholarship in the discipline.

Although this work is both important and necessary, we believe that research can also be a collaborative process that, from the outset, depends on the expertise and knowledge of others. In our case, these expert others were students and community members, but our research process was as rigorous as that of more traditional scholarship. Developing the Workshop required us to extensively research best practices in service-learning and literacy studies, to collaborate with community members about literacy and educational needs, and to develop a course that would be tied to the Workshop through service. We also had to navigate the logistics of finding and setting up a space, determining policies and regulations and managing finances. So we didn’t write a book; we created a place — a place that provides opportunities for University students, faculty and community members to collaborate, to research and to learn from one another. We find this kind of scholarship meaningful, powerful, and engaging.

As we move into our third year of commitment to this project, we look forward to further collaborating with our colleagues across the University, and we invite them and their students to be a part of this project. We are also hopeful that, with the continued support of the university and local community, 537 Clarion will thrive and serve these communities for many years to come.

Leah Chambers is an assistant professor of English at Clarion’s Venango College. She is a first-year writing and retention specialist and is also completing her secondary English certification. She enjoys traveling to warmer climates, running and the time she spends at 537 Clarion.

Rich Lane is an associate professor of English and the Director of Writing at Clarion. He specializes in rhetoric and composition theory and practice and English Education. He enjoys coaching baseball, running, and watching and learning with the students at 537 Clarion.

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