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CHEM 2010 Serving in Rural Communities
Christian Higher Education Month (CHEM)
CHEM 2010 Serving in Rural Communities
October 21, 2010
Though Americas rural communities are places of need just as its cities are, smaller communities with less concentrated populations attract less attention to the needs residing within them. However, CCCU schools outside urban centers are noticing the needs surrounding their rural contexts and are finding ways to meet them, providing growth both for students and for the communities they serve.
Serving through Tutoring
Alto Park Elementary School in Georgias Floyd County School System has a large populationat least 40 percent of its studentsof English Language Learners (ELL) plus a poverty rate over 75 percent. Since 2009 students from Floyd Countys
Shorter University (GA)
have been serving as tutors and mentors to Alto Park students. Shorter students meet with their tutees at least once a week during the school day, focusing primarily on math and reading skills.
Shorter students are consistently high-quality people, and their work with our students is extremely beneficial both academically and socially, said Aaron Anderson, Alto Park principal.
The tutoring helps the elementary students increase their academic success, explained Jane Cobia, chair of Shorters Department of Education. Its just having another caring individual who is totally focused on one or two or three students instead of a group of 20.
Rural schools often have few resources for serving ELL students, so the Shorter volunteers help fill a gap thats exaggerated by a shortage of textbooks, software programs and interpreters who can assist students and their parents.
For Shorter education majors who volunteer at Alto Park, the opportunity to experience first-hand the necessity of using differentiated instruction and other teaching methods they have learned about in their education classes is valuable.
Shorter is a Christ-centered university with a real focus on service to the community and helping others who have needs, noted Cobia, so students service at Alto Park helps mold them into the students Shorter seeks to produce. In addition to tutoring, Shorter students are serving in other capacities throughout Floyd County, and new service initiatives are being developed.
Students from several campus groups at
John Brown University (AR)
are serving families across the nearby Arkansas-Oklahoma state line in the Watts School System. Located less than 20 minutes away from JBUs campus, Watts is a rural school district in Oklahomas poorest county. Its population is under 500 and includes many minority residents, the majority of whom are Cherokee families.
Each Tuesday and Thursday students from JBUs Honors Scholars Program tutor 7th-12th grade students at Watts, focusing on improving reading comprehension and on Oklahomas Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE) remediation courses. Additionally, one Saturday per month Honors Scholars host a reading workshop at JBUs Honors House for 2nd and 3rd graders from Watts.
Because Watts is in such an impoverished region, the school system is short on staff and facilities, explains Meghan Guthrie, a JBU senior and student leader with the tutoring program. The school doesnt have the capacity for students to repeat a grade even when they need to. Assisting students with reading skills is essential because poor reading affects their ability to study other subjects.
Chenoa Barker, this years student director of the tutoring program, describes two Watts students who began the 2009-2010 school year with D averages and were constantly in in-school suspension. By the end of the year, they had B averages and were behaving so well they were never in suspension. Tutoring was a part of this transformation. They needed someone who could be there week in and week out, said Barker. They could do the work, but they lacked the motivation.
Barker enjoys seeing relationships develop between her fellow tutors and their students. Theres a whole other side of tutoring besides academia, and thats having someone to listen to them.
Brad Gambill, director of the Honors Scholars Program, said its important for JBUs honors students, most of whom have received excellent educations and special privileges, to encounter students without such privileges and to learn to use their God-given gifts to serve others.
Some of the young people we work with [at Watts] have a really narrow sense of who they are and what their possibilities are. Part of growing the kingdom [of God] is helping them envision what it means to flourish, he said.
Knowing What Your Community Needs
Judson College (AL)
is located in the town of Marion in Perry County, which is in the heart of Alabamas Black Belt, one of the poorest and most economically disadvantaged areas in the United States. In the 1800s, Perry County was cotton land. Now it has needs in the areas of economic development, awareness of good health practices and access to health care, transportation, housing and education.
The poverty in the Perry County area provides Judson students, faculty and staff with an opportunity to serve our neighbors in various ways, said Susan Jones, director of Judsons faith-based service and learning. Members of the community have been supportive of Judson throughout its existence, so its important to us to be able to work with them to improve life in the area for everyone. We also directly correlate our partnership with and service to the community to Gods call to be on mission. Marion is our Jerusalem.
During the 2009-2010 academic year, approximately 85 percent of Judsons full-time students participated in one or more service learning activities. During their first week on campus, 138 students and 22 faculty and staff members completed 15 projects in and around Marion, ranging from distributing flyers about upcoming health screenings to assisting teachers in schools to befriending nursing home residents.
During the academic year, students have offered classes to Perry County residents preparing to take the GED equivalency test. Students also served as mentors through the BluePrints college and career mentoring program at a local high school in partnership with the Alabama Poverty Project. Each mentor worked with three to four 11th graders for two hours each week, helping prepare them for life after graduation, focusing on college admissions and skills for obtaining jobs after high school.
BluePrints was a great way for us to reach out to the community. It was wonderful for me to be able to pass along what I had learned as a first generation college student to my mentoring group, and it was rewarding to see them be so interested in learning more, said freshman Sarah Watson.
During Christmas break last year, in an effort planned and led primarily by students, a group of students, parents and staff members completed construction and insulation projects in several homes and volunteered at a local elementary school.
We work to provide students with service opportunities that reinforce the knowledge they gain in the classroom. It is also the first face-to-face experience that many of our students have with working with people in low-income settings, said Jones. It instills in them the same deep concern for those who live in poverty that can be found in the teachings of Christ.
Meeting a Different Kind of Need
Grantham Community Garden on
Messiah Colleges (PA)
campus in rural, southern Pennsylvania, is meeting the needs of community members for access to locally-grown, healthy food. The local food movement is really raising awareness about economic and environmental justice issues locally and internationally, said Chad Frey, director of the Agape Center for Service and Learning.
In the summer, students manage the garden and run it as a CSA (community supported agriculture). Community members buy shares of the gardens organically-grown produce, and shares also go to the colleges dining services. During the academic year, students work to raise awareness about agrarian issues, sustainable agriculture and practices like composting.
For our students, being involved with the garden is raising awareness that were part of a local economy, ecology and community. Through the CSA its deepening the relationships they have with the community around them and with the earth, said Frey.
He describes composting as one of the best metaphors for Christian discipleship: taking things discarded, decayed and pushed aside by the world and flipping them, turning them into something fertile that can grow good fruit. In ways not possible while sitting in the classroom, students experience lessons as they get their hands literally dirty in the garden.
The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities is a higher education association of 185 intentionally Christ-centered institutions around the world. There are now 110 member campuses in North America and all are fully-accredited, comprehensive colleges and universities with curricula rooted in the arts and sciences. In addition, 75 affiliate campuses from 24 countries are part of the CCCU. The Councils mission is to advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and to help its institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth.
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