By Michan Myer,
Adjunct Professor of English,
and Assistant Director Center for Writing
For many, the idea of Service Learning evokes images of students wielding shovels and hardhats, implementing their concrete skills in tangible service to the community. When I first came to Norwich, a colleague and I were discussing Service-Learning, and I got excited about her ideas—intangible service with very tangible results. Since I began teaching writing, I have constantly admonished my students to “Write something that MATTERS.” Opening my classroom to Service Learning allowed me to extend this idea and help students to see their writing matter more—to themselves and their community.
I planned in the fall semester to teach my students foundational writing concepts—and overall polished writing—with real-world, higher-stakes implications, and I found two community partners, Northfield Middle High School (NMHS) and Mayo Healthcare, who were not only willing to work with my students, but also thrilled to do so.
EN 101 students brainstormed research topics centered on conflict and compromise in history for NMHS juniors working on their Vermont History Day projects. The high school students visited Norwich for a full-day research “boot-camp,” where EN 101 students worked as research mentors, leading them in developing thesis statements, navigating the library databases, and completing a research scavenger hunt in Kreitzberg Library. EN 101 students remarked that the project helped motivate their own research and gave them a sense of pride in sharing their knowledge. High school junior Ana Myer noted that the collaboration, “…opened up the door to research that most high-school students hadn’t done before and allowed us to see what’s expected in our futures.” We hope to continue this collaboration, as well, seeing mentees grow into mentors.
As exciting as the future is, though, sometimes we learn just as much from the past, which is what another EN 101 class did just before finals. Students conducted in-depth interviews with assisted-living residents about their favorite holiday memories. They then composed narratives about those memories and presented them to the residents as gifts. It was remarkable to see how invested in the project the students were, and what beautiful memories they were able to commemorate in their texts. First-year student, Jocelyn Snyder, shared, “Rather than focusing on a word count, I focused on doing my resident’s most precious memories justice.” The project resulted in a fulfilling experience for both the students and the residents, and it yielded excellent and compelling narratives.
This past fall, my students didn’t construct a playground or establish a community garden, but they built something, nonetheless. They used the skills they were learning in EN 101 to connect with the Northfield community and serve in immeasurable ways. They wrote something that MATTERS, and, as an educator, it was worth every minute to see Service-Learning truly shine.