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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Activity Using Census Data in Spanish Community Service Learning Course

by Ann Abbott


We're at the point in the semester now where we have already covered the specifics of what students need in their CSL work in schools or human services so we are now turning our attention to broader, contextual issues. In other words, how do their experiences in the community relate to larger socio-cultural and policy issues?

Today's lesson was on housing. I began the class by writing three big words on the board: casa, hogar, vivienda. In pairs, students had to differentiate between those words. Not surprisingly, vivienda gave students the most problems.

We followed Lección 17 in Comunidades. First, students analyze their own experiences looking for housing in Champaign-Urbana--their priorities and the problems they faced.  Then they compare their own experiences to those of a recent Spanish-speaking immigrant who is looking for work and a place to live. Even though it's hard to put yourself in someone else's shoes, they did a great job recognizing all the barriers to getting housing that some immigrants might face.

Finally, I put students into five groups, and each group was given census data about five Illinois counties: Cook, DuPage, Champaign, Clay (the county I am from) and Pope. They analyzed the data, and then one person from the group had to stand up with the information in their hand.  They then lined up from greatest (on the left) to smallest (on the right) for the following information: population, % of Latinos, median family income,  percentage of residents living below the poverty line (picture) and average home value.

What did students learn? I think it surprised them to see the difference between rural and urban poverty, for example. They also saw that in the rural counties, household income was much lower, but the price of homes was not much higher than their incomes. On the other hand, in Cook and DuPage Counties, the average price of a home was much more than double the annual household income. It also gave a picture of northern, central and southern counties in this very large state of ours. Most importantly, however, the census data and their comparisons shed real light on the issue of affordable housing in our communities.

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