Monday, October 20, 2014

Making Service-Learning Beneficial for the Giver and Receiver

By Francoise Heyden, Middle School Spanish Teacher at Carolina Friends School in Durham, North Carolina
What a gift this Nobis World service-learning trip to the Dominican Republic was!  And on so many levels!  This intense and powerful week immersed in cultural learning was well worth the effort of scraping together the funding for it!  The Nobis World program prepared us via carefully constructed e-learning to understand the historical background and social context of what we saw; once we were there, the program gave us plenty of tools for processing our experience with our colleagues; and the forum will stay open this academic year for discussion and sharing of materials.   Nonetheless, however well-prepared I thought I was, having traveled extensively in the past and dealt with issues of poverty in other places, I had to be on the island physically to appreciate the reality of the lives of the girls at the Mariposa Center for Girls in Cabarete.  The Nobis Big Ideas framework and various group activities helped me unpack what we experienced on our trips to the school and different communities and I enjoyed our group discussions as each teacher shared his or her impressions.  The intensity was both exhilarating and exhausting, making it challenging to provide the help we wanted to the school and to fully process how we would apply our service learning ideas to our own classrooms.  Ideally, we would have had a couple more days to spend time with the Mariposa teachers to see how to help them most effectively and to formulate our own plans for service learning once we returned home.   As a Spanish teacher at the Middle School level, I have lots of ideas for cultural exploration with my classes.  As someone very interested in promoting service learning at my school, I knew all about the challenges of engaging students (and staff, for that matter!) in meaningful community outreach.  While I did not find any easy answers to my questions, I did enjoy having the time to discuss and reflect on the plans I was starting to formulate.  They may not all be feasible for logistical reasons, but I am inspired to try supporting the Mariposa Center for Girls with lesson plans my students create to teach Dominican children’s stories (especially by Julia Alvarez) and with fund-raising.  More ambitious is a plan I have for an elective service class in which we would create a short documentary segment in the style of the Girl Rising stories about Alba Rosa, the eleven year old girl who teaches children in her neighborhood after attending Mariposa Center for Girls.

This amazing and thought-provoking trip strengthened my belief from working on a number of such school projects that service learning has to meet several criteria to make it meaningful for the givers and the receivers.  These include:  1)  a commitment to establishing a long-lasting relationship between schools (this requires deep listening to their needs, cultural sensitivity, and respect for their way of doing things), 2) personal contact, if not actually physically meeting each other or skyping, at least exchanging photos and letters, 3) solid understanding of how the center operates, what works well for them, what does not, good communication with the staff and parents, 4) assessment of the community resources, history, and relationship with, as well as support for the center, and 5) flexibility and patience as plans evolve.   The Nobis Global Action Model and program on the whole gave us a good foundation for elaborating our own school’s service learning projects by giving us a close-up view of helping address Dominican poverty through education at the Mariposa Center for Girls.

Monday, October 6, 2014

When You Start To See Home Differently

By Christen Clougherty
Nobis World teachers at the King-Tisdell Cottage

Nobis Project is based in Savannah, Georgia because that's were I call home. After college I wanted to live near the ocean, not too far from home (Durham, NC), in a smaller town were I could be engaged in community, and with a strong arts community. Savannah had all these things. My first introduction to Savannah was the movie, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." The film captured a magical city untouched by time. And that is what visitors see. My husband calls it, "the theme park called the South" and my four year old now expects all cities to have horse-drawn carriages.

Over the 13 years that I have lived in Savannah I have come to see its many sides. Some are hidden gems off the beaten path, but more are hidden stories of a past that many would rather be forgotten. One such place is on a nearby barrier island in South Carolina, Daufuskie Island. I was interested in visiting the tabby ruins of dwellings where enslaved people once lived on the island. But when I arrived I learned that they were closed off to the public. And by closed off, I mean they are inside a wealthy private gated community. When I told a friend about my unsuccessful trip, she said, "we like to hide our uncomfortable pasts." And she is right. But that is not the world I want to live in. It is only when we face ourselves and our shared histories that we begin to see our interconnectedness and even our interdependence.

In the Nobis World program, Savannah, Ga & The Lowcountry: Preserving African-American and Gullah-Geechee History, I am (along with many Savannahians) able to share with teachers from all over the country some of these other pasts, other presents, and we pondered over potential futures. 
During the five-day program held annually in July, we explore the preservation of African-American history and culture in Savannah and Georgia's coastal islands. Teachers experience the historic city of Savannah, with its stunning architecture and grand live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, as well as the lovely Lowcountry coastal landscape, with its expansive marshes and refreshing sea breezes. Through a service-learning project and cultural immersion, teachers learn how different museums and heritage organizations preserve the history of African-Americans in the Lowcountry. We learn quickly that there is much more to Savannah than is first apparent.

The program focuses on the themes of race, slavery, and the sense of place. We consider the impact of geography, environment, and diaspora on the development of community values and culture by looking at two different experiences: the urban environment of Savannah and the rural Gullah-Geechee culture on the barrier island Sapelo. The Gullah-Geechee culture is distinctive and found only in the Lowcountry: the Gullah-Geechee people are descended from formerly enslaved people, primarily from the East Coast of Africa. 

During this program we work with the King-Tisdell Cottage Foundation in a service-learning project. Exploring together ways to bring the museum into the classroom in meaningful and relevant ways for today's learners.

We invite teachers to join us in summer 2015. Visit our website for details:

And if you want to read more about the many sides to Savannah, check out the New York Times article that came out this past weekend: "Savannah, Both Sides."

I wonder what "uncomfortable pasts" are hidden in your town?