Friday, May 16, 2008

Spanish Community Service Learning Can Be Laced with Sadness

Normally on this blog and elsewhere I talk enthusiastically about the postive benefits of Spanish community service learning. The learning IS positive, but the realities can be very sad sometimes.

Amy Lewensky was a wonderful student in my "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" class, and she did her community service learning at Booker T. Washington school in Champaign. That summer she had a summer internship through the Spanish & Illinois program, and she worked at Central States SER, located in la Villita in Chicago. She did such a wonderful job that they hired her themselves the following summer. (And I have always been so impressed by Amy's energy, organization, smarts and style, that I asked her to work with me on the internship program this year. She has been absolutely wonderful.)

Central States SER provides very important education and job training for the local community. Amy jumped right in, teaching an ESL class the very first day of her internship there, and then moving on to work with other programs that they offer. In doing so, Amy formed strong relationships with her youth and adult students, all of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds and who were preparing for success on the job.

This morning Amy wrote to tell me the sad news that one of her students (a young man who was powerfully impacted by Amy's teaching and Central States SER's programs) was shot and killed yesterday. She is obviously very upset.

Tragedy, of course, can befall anyone. But this type of violence and other types of harsh realities seem more pronounced in many of the communities we serve with Spanish community service learning. And our students who form deep ties with the community in which they do their community service learning are the most positively impacted in terms of learning and the most negatively impacted by the emotional toll of sad events as well.

This is a tragic example, of course, but in general I think that our curriculum also needs to focus on how students understand and process sad events with the community members that they come to know so well during Spanish community service learning.

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